Each day I decide to wear my high heels I will document and share my experiences with you; from the different genres of dance classes I take, to the physical and emotional responses I feel, and the reactions I get from others. I intend to use these experiences and my own self-discoveries as fuel for the creative process of the piece I will choreograph on this subject. This is primarily a movement study based around the use of high heels in dance but because dance is an artistic and thus emotional expression, I feel that it is important to understand the social connection to the subject as well, since that can have a significant affect on the emotional development. For this reason, I will also be wearing my high heels outside the dance classroom in the social settings of everyday life.
|Posted on March 31, 2016 at 12:15 AM||comments (2)|
"Elevated" is a short dance film conceived and choreographed by Kelsey Burns and I that gives a new perspective to latin/rhythm ballroom dance. Both the male and female dance in high heels and both have legs exposed and legs covered together at the same time, yet all while keeping the traditional gender roles as male-leader and female-follower. It's a concept that celebrates the latin/rhythm ballroom expression while challenging its current state and traditional aesthetic; a suggestion to diversify our relationship, expression and connection through dance as persons rather than just male/female.
Directed by: Knox White
Filmed and Edited by: Jeff Clanet
Music by: Prince- "Black Sweat" Maxwell- "Gravity" Mix by: Edward EGO Martin
Costumes by: Kelsey Burns & Abdiel Jacobsen
Location: Shen Tao Studio New York, NY
|Posted on March 19, 2016 at 3:20 AM||comments (0)|
My dance partner, Kelsey Burns, and I began rehearsing together both in ladies latin ballroom high heels (3.5 inches to be exact) for the first time in June of 2015. My journey with her has created new discoveries in my body and helped me gain a whole new perspective on how we relate to each other. So many feelings to share with you.
The latin and rhythmic ballroom technique is tough physically no doubt. It takes a lot of strength and a tremendous amount of endurance and stamina. You have to be able to move at hyper speed with the sharp, quick and syncopated movements of the uptempo dances (chacha, samba, swing, paso double, jive, mambo) and yet have the same ability, in slow motion, to suspend and sustain long extended movements of the slow tempo dances (rumba, bolero). Ballroom dancers because of this tend to develop lean, tone muscles with flexibility similar to those of runners, swimmers and ice skaters. I mean we are athletes after all. There is a reason why they title the ballroom competition dance world “Dancesport”.
The man and the female train the same but just as different roles. The leader, the man, is set as the frame for the woman to be displayed on exhibition; sort of a blank canvas for the women to be painted on, as the female follows his lead. Both male and female equally work hard to play their role and must be sensitive to each others' connection as not to overpower the other. Both are on an even playing field. This was my perspective of the ballroom practice as a male dancer wearing a closed toed shoe flat footed with a wide heel no more than an inch and half. Now that I have been wearing the same shoe as my female partner, that viewpoint has completely changed.
Taking the modern day role (and traditional) of the female in latin ballroom dance, wearing high heels as a part of my practice, has now made the technique more than tough; grueling. It’s a bittersweet, love-hate process. A constant struggle between confidence and insecurity when executing the movement. At times, rehearsing our choreography in high heels makes me feel stronger because my quadriceps, calves, inner thighs and ankles work significantly harder, for the most part just to maintain stability. Besides, there are many technical elements (i.e. turn-out, foot placement, extension, etc.) that increases in difficulty due to the elevated, narrow platform. It gives me a sense of hard work well accomplished because it’s so challenging and I like developing new physical strengths, yet, it is in this same case that I feel weakened. There is no time where you can actually relax the weight fully into the floor when in latin high heels.
This has made me (or anyone) susceptible to many injuries: lower back pain, muscle spasms, spinal issues, tendonitis (knee, hip in particular), foot and ankle injuries. If I don’t pay full attention to how I support my body, for instance, holding the core so as not to over arch the lower spine or maintaining proper engagement in the quadricep and inner thigh so as not to hyperextend the knee joint and hamstrings, I would run into trouble. My body has literally been made more vulnerable; a vulnerability I had rarely felt before wearing non-high heels and ironically I feel more tenacious than ever... hence the love-hate relationship.
This duality of fear and confidence has also brought up some interesting emotional discoveries. As a man in a male dominated society, I have been always raised to conduct myself as direct and solid as possible. Dancing in high heels has allowed me not to be constrained to only those qualities as I am now encouraged in high heels to rise and float above the ground and find a circular and swiveling manner when even just walking for ease. It is important to know too that in no way have I compromised my “masculinity” for I am even more so solid because I have more pressure in the foot and I’m keenly aware of my direction more than ever so that I don’t fall or trip, or do something embarrassing.
There, too, is a new access to my sexuality that I’m not sure is either feminine or masculine (or perhaps neither) but in any case is definitely different that being flat footed. It could be because of the fact that my pelvis and spine are constantly shifting and feel more mobile. It's enhanced all my senses. I question why society doesn't allow men to explore this fluid, serpentine manner of physicality unless classified as homosexual. I feel that people focus too much on sexual orientation when really it should be about exploring the sensual capacity that is in us despite your sexual orientaion.
Perhaps though the most important discovery dancing in high heels with my dance partner has been my increase in sensibility. I understand what she feels because I too am literally experiencing her same physical journey. We are on the same path communicating through the same device. Because my line of balance no longer is as wide, I can no longer be a full supportive object since I am more easily thrown off balance. She now needs to be a lot more self-supportive and hold her own weight which requires more strength on her end. In fact, because I am more vulnerable, there are times when I'm leading in high heels where she is actually supporting me as she follows my lead and allows me to rely on her to help. This I feel is the essence of dancing with a partner. It feels more real to me this way. We both share equal responsibility from each other where both experience supporting and being supported rather than either of us being one or the other. It is a new relationship indeed symbiotic.
First rehearsal with my dance partner, Kelsey, practing flat foot and I wearing the heels to understand each other's perspective. My feet were much more damaged as you can see...
Kelsey and I were asked by choreographer, Cecilia Marta, to be in a short dance film presentation she was creating in collaboration with Spinkick Productions, directed by Brian Thomas. She wanted the men and women both in heels and asked us to put together a duet of us dancing in high heels that she would feature. It was the first time we performed and were filmed dancing together with this new symbiosis. We choreographed our duet so that we kept the movement of Rhythmic Ballroom technique as the dance style and maintained the traditional roles of the man as leader and the female as follower. The only modern twist is that we both are wearing the same high heels. The reaction of the creative team when we demonstrated our piece in rehearsal was enthusiastic. We were told that what we did was unique and something never seen before. Wes Veldink, the stylist of the project, said to us that we kept the traditional masuline and feminine roles despite the affect of the heels. It's refreshing to see men tap into there sensuailty in heels without it being portrayed as hyper feminine. Wes chose costuming that really accentued this idea. Kelsey and I were both in black and white with legs covered and backs exposed but with a slight adrogynous spin. Take a look!
|Posted on May 18, 2015 at 2:55 PM||comments (1)|
The guts it takes to dance in high heels must weigh more than that of an elephant's and yet you can still look so light and poised as a flamingo. How is that possible one might ask? Practicing a technique that takes a ton of tenacity. And yes, there is an actual technique to dancing in heels. I think we've all been there at some point where you've seen a girl at a club who doesn't know how to actually dance in heels, looking like she is going to fall at any point and hurt herself. That's not tenaciousness that's just dangerous and unwise. How to distribute your weight properly, balance, core strength and support, proper body alignment, are all fundamental physical practices and aspects you study in a technique class. Things that the girl in the club could seriously benefit from. The power that comes from wearing heels is the power that comes from a strong physicality. Dancing in heels weak and vulnerable is not powerful nor cute and is actually unattractive. You'll look awkward and like a hot mess; it's a turn off. However, dancing in heels with a strong body and understanding of physical expression is so much more attractive and alluring; a sensuality occurs that has powerful presence and pulls the viewer in that comes from being in control of your body.
This is what I, as a professional dancer, have learned and practiced tirelessly for many years how to do; being in control of my body. I thought in the beginning of my high heeled journey that because of my experience as a dancer, walking in heels was so easy for me, so I assumed dancing in heels would be the same. I was definitely wrong. Yes dancing in high heels for fun like at a club or a house party was no struggle for me, like when I was cat woman for Halloween that you read about earlier, but actual training in high heels is a whole other level of control and technical understanding that I didn't have and needed to acquire. My ultimate goal is to perform in heels and create choreography in heels. To do this I need to learn once again how to be in control.
The first thing I realized was that the shoe makes all the difference. My black 5 inch Stilletto boots are much different than my 3.5 inch flared high heel Latin ballroom shoes. To get a better understanding of the differences I recently took a Stiletto Heels class by Mishay Petronelli at Broadway Dance Center that is geared towards learning specially how to dance in stiletto heels. The class began with a warm up consisting of core exercises, isolations and stretches that was done barefoot, preparing the body for choreography done in heels. After the warmup, we then put on our stilettos.
(Pic of class in stillettos. Me in the front center)
A couple of technical aspects Mishay stressed were the lines of the body, foot placement and fluidity through transitions. When making a pose or extending legs and arms, the line of the body should stretch completely through the the limbs to create dynamic energy in the shapes and also the movement. She mentioned that even in a closed toed shoe, your foot should still be actively pointing through the shoe as if you were barefoot so that the line is complete. As with foot placement, it was stressed over and over again the importance of keeping the weight over the big toe or inside edge of the shoe so that your feet are not sickled. "If you are standing in place your feet better be beveled!" Yes Miss Petronelli made sure each time our legs were together, even in a deep squat all the way down to the floor, that our ankles were squeezed together. It forced you to work on controlling your balance through your feet and ankles.
Here is the chorography she came up with that we did:
Beyond the technical pointers there was also attention brought to the importance of confidence and fluidity throughout the combination. She wanted each moment to be engaged, from hitting the dynamic lines with power to the fluid and nuanced transitions that required sensuality and ease. This encouraged the dancers to have what I felt as a more mature sense of their physical expression because rather than focusing on just being sensual or just emphasizing strong shapes, there was a connection of the use of both throughout the choreography that allowed each dancer to find multi-layers of body awareness and articulation in the movement.
I really liked the fact that most of the class (about 65-70%) was spent in stilettos working on the dance combination. This pushed the dancer to work hard and develop strength and endurance. Oh yes my legs and feet were sore after class but I wouldn't want it any other way! I left feeling not only like I completed a marathon because my legs were so tired but also that I was so in touch with my sensuality, I could go on stage and perform a burlesque number without a flinch...but with maybe a wink.
(Final moment in combination)
I must point out that the part of class I appreciated most was when Mishay made everyone, no exceptions, do the combination barefoot on maximum relevé (up on your toes) the whole time without lowering to your heels to flat foot. This was the true test of strength and balance that unapologetically exposed your capability and weakness. Out of the many times we ran through the combination and did it in smaller groups, no part of class was harder than this! I was guilty of slowly loosing my height as the combination went on. My calf muscles were burning! I didn't have enough endurance in my calf muscles to stay up so high the whole combination. It gave me the determination to continue working harder and take more classes. It was also a good reminder than the shoe is not an apparatus needed to perform a dance piece but is rather just an accessory. It's the strength from the person wearing them that is ultimately the prerequisite to being a fierce and sensual stilletto dancing diva. Don't get it twisted. All you men and women out there who think you're pretty strong and balanced, go take a Stilletto heels class and get a reality check. We are living amongst warriors. Take the opportunity to learn from their boldness. Can't wait to take another class and delve into its deliciousness. Mishay mentioned that dancing in boots are easier than pumps because the straps give more support so she urged us to take class in strapless stilleto pumps. I accept her challenge and searching for pumps immediately. I remain tenacious.
(Picture of Red Patent Leather Pump)
|Posted on April 13, 2015 at 5:00 PM||comments (0)|
This is what goes down on Monday & Wednesday nights at Broadway Dance Center in Cecilia Marta's Latin Jazz class! I posted below a combination of chroegraphy from Cecilia Marta that I did in my latin heels for the first time. I even had a fellow male dancer join me in high heeled enlightenment. Thank you Henri for joining in!
I've taken her class in stilletto boots before as you have seen earlier in my journey, but dancing in competitive latin ballroom is much more difficult! The shank is made of suede so that you can point your feet and articulate your footwork which make the shoe more flexible. The heel doesn't have a steel rod in it like a stilletto does, it's made of a kind of plastic material. Because of this, there is actually less support which means you have to engage your muscles even more to stay balanced. However, dancing in an actual open-toed dance heel than a stilletto boot is much better for feet articulation.
|Posted on April 2, 2015 at 11:05 PM||comments (0)|
If I made it to heaven, this is what it looked like. Shoes upon shoes of what seemed to have been some kind of immaculate conception of each designer and constructor of divine intercourse. From the ornate to the understated, the classical to the avant-garde, the sleek to the vulgar and erotic, there was no end to the spectrum of this elevated expression. I had wore my new pair of stilettos (black patent leather 6.5 inches) geared up for my trek into footwear enlightenment.
(Photo at entrance of Killer Heels Exhibition)
Entering the exhibition there were video projections of the full break down of the high heel construction process. On one side, the classic basic stiletto heel and on the opposite, the new modern 3-d printing process that is innovating unconventional ways of shoe construction. From there you pass by a huge screen of a short film by Zach Gold. There were also five other original short films commissioned for this exhibition that took the high heel as a conceptual starting point. These provocative films explored the cult status of the high-heeled shoe and its role in discourses of fantasy, power, and identity, as well as its high profile in visual culture. These films were spread out throughout the exhibit. This first one seen, by Zach Gold, was particularly striking, portraying these surreal and mystic characters in settings, relationships and scenes of alien and imaginative places all wearing crazy avant-garde heel designs by a collection of highly noted couture designers such as Alexander McQueen, Jean Paul Gautier, Christian Loubtain, Prada, etc. Zach’s four and half minute film features couture as sharp—literally—as it is cutting-edge, and a horde of digital effects, from CGI through Python-generated video distortion. I was left hypnotized. See for yourself!
(Video by Zach Gold at entrance of exhibition)
This then lead into the actual high heels display and what seemed to be endless. More than 160 (I counted) spectacular contemporary and historical shoe designs play with the cultural and artistic possibilities of the high heel, use innovative or unexpected materials, and push the limits of functionality and beauty. The themes presented in this exhibition (in this order) were: Revival and Reinterpretation, Rising in the East, Glamour and Fetish, Architecture, Metamorphosis, and Space Walk. I will point out one thing, of the many, that intrigued me with each theme. I will also share with you direct passages from the exhibit.
Under Revival and Reinterpretation you were shown that change is the essence of fashion. It does not follow a strictly linear trajectory of unique moments; instead it consists of cyclical returns to earlier styles that may be reinterpreted or differentiated to some degree but remains recognizable in their formal lineaments. Old becomes new becomes old becomes new. Platforms, for example, are the oldest elevated shoe in history and they have reappeared most often in western fashion from low, clog-like versions worn by European men and women of the 12th century to the towering chopines worn by women in the 15th & 16th century in Italy and Spain. They were eclipsed though by high heels for centuries, and then made a series of comebacks in the 1930s, the 1970s, and again in the 1990s. Within this case of the platform shoe, we also see another entity revived and reinterpreted: masculinity; of course, the point I found most fascinating with this section. To become taller meant you could seem bigger, more powerful. It should be no secret then that the high heels were embraced by the aristocratic European men of the late 1500s who embraced high-heeled shoes for their exotic, masculine aura. Yes, in this period, high heels were considered masculine. Beyond that they were also a symbol of status. In the early 18th century, King Louis XIV established red heels as indispensable and exclusive features of male courtiers' dress code. By the early 1700s, however, "high heels were considered symbols of irrationality and thus men abandoned them to women, who had also eagerly adopted the style. Yet, when the platform shoes returned with a vengeance in the 1970s, men wore outrageous platforms, aggressively asserting their masculinity in emulation of glam rockers (celebrities or ones of high status) and the influential "Super Fly" style showcased in the 1972 Blaxploitation film of the same name. Once again, the elevated shoe sent a daring message about sexuality and thereby assumed prime importance in the construction of identity."
(Right: photo of shoe worn by Jimi Hendrix Left: David Bowie)
(Left: Loius XIV, King of France, 1701 Right: French shoe, 1760-75 made of silk & metal)
You might be wondering where in fact did platforms and high heels originate from. The next section "Rising in the East" explained that. Here is passage from exhibition:
"The origins of the platforms and high heels that have dominated western women's fashion footwear for centuries lie in the East. Elevated footwear can be seen in ancient Greek statues of Aphrodite and other idealized female figures, but the style is actually evidence of the Greek fascination for things Eastern, or "Oriental." In fact, the Greeks associated the Orient – primarily, their adversary Persia – with foreign luxury and excess, particularly in relation to women's fashion (including elevated footwear), which were decreed in many ancient treaties as dangerous and deceitful. Another Persian style, the heeled shoe worn by cavalry men to help keep their feet in the stirrups, entered the Western canon in the late 16th century on the feet of aristocratic men. At a time of burgeoning military and trade alliances with Persia against the Ottoman Empire, European men embraced the Persian heeled shoe and it's masculine military prowess and adventure."
(Photo at Museum of Aphrodite (Eastern) nude seated; 1st century C.E.)
(Portrait of Shah Abbas I and a Page (Persian) from an albulm, 1632-33. Notice the heels)
With the wood stilt-clogs called "nalin" we also see another influence from the East. These elevated footwear were worn by women in bath houses of the Ottoman Empire to keep their feet high and dry above the wet floors. "Because of their association with the pampered world of the harem, nalin became a potent symbol of feminine luxury in the West, particularly in Venice, a city with clean close connections to the Islamic world. The elevated form of the Near Eastern nalin, in turn, may have influenced chopines, the high platform is that both noblewomen and courtesans of the Renaissance Venice wore under their long gowns. Although their purpose has been frequently described as protective – elevating a woman's feet and garments above the filthy street – recent scholarship suggest that chopines where in fact primarily an intimate foundational accessory, worn under skirts to create a taller, more elongated figure. They remained largely invisible when worn, yet were integral to their wearer's conspicuous display of wealth: their height meant that already costly dresses required extra fabric to reach the ground." You can see this in the picture of the Venetian woman below.
(Above: Syrian, Nalin platform sandals, 1875 Below: Italin, Chopines, circa 1600)
(Venetian Woman with Movable Skirt (flap down, bottom; flap up, top). Italian, 1563. Engravings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
It was shown that as centuries of trade, war, imperial expansion, and tourism have brought encounters between East and West, the Western fascination with foreign or "exotic" fashions has never faltered. You could even see from the many modern European and American designers of today how their shoes were inspired by Eastern culture. In any case, it was made apparent that to don a pair of platform/elevated shoes was not something of the ordinary nor commonplace. It was made for those opulent.
|Posted on January 26, 2015 at 1:15 AM||comments (2)|
I can’t help but to fixate on the scene in the movie “The Bandwagon” in the last big dance sequence where Fred Astaire stumbles into a night club with mobsters and gangsters when he catches the attention of the the alluring Cyd Charisse sitting at the bar. She undoes her jacket revealing her seductive red sequin dress and saunters to Fred with that piercing gaze. He grabs her and the alarm goes off. With a kick there and a twist here, her legs are on fire! I just can’t take my eyes off her, no matter what partner (Fred Astaire, Gene Kelley, Ricardo Montalban) she dances with in any of the many dance pieces she’s done. It might as well have been me, not Gene Kelly, in the nightclub scene in "Singing in the Rain” where Cyd is dressed in an emerald green dress enticing him. Those legs seem to coil around my body and reel me in each time. It didn’t end with her though. Watching Cyd Charisse in films was just the beginning of my leg obsession. Tina Turner, Chita Rivera, Gwen Verdon, Shirley Mclaine and so many epic showbiz dance divas were unapologetic with flaunting their verticality in my face, exposing their legs to maximum capacity.
(Picture of Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire in "The Bandwagon")
(Picture of Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly in "Singing in the Rain")
After a while though, I caught on. Women had discovered some kind of super power that lies within the legs and they patented it. With stockings, fishnets and panty hoes, they accentuated them. With leotards, mini skirts, high slit dresses, they featured them, and with high heeled shoes, they perfected them. No doubt leg expression is a significant part of the female entity in our time. My question is, why wouldn’t men want to tap into this incredible enterprise of extraordinary legs?
Perhaps it’s a conspiracy of objectifying women. Nowadays, the most you see of a man’s legs exposed is from the knee down as men's shorts typically don't expose much of the quadriceps. In fact, probably the only chances you’ll get to see a man’s leg fully exposed in public while still asserting his “masculinity” is body building and sports. I, as I'm sure most men, don’t recall ever thinking during puberty and adolescence years that I was eventually gonna have to shave my legs. Facial hair yes, but anywhere else, no. I have two older sisters and I do remember though, them having to undergo this right of passage into young womanhood. What kind of razor to get, the right shaving cream to buy, watching the Nair and Venus commercials on tv with the beautiful silky smooth legs of the ladies being advertised and my sisters having no choice but to conform. Girls with hairy legs, ewww! There were no commercials or advertisements I have seen on TV with men shaving their legs...
Exposed legs is a common conversation women have with themselves. It is a major entity that separates men and women. The very fact that women shave their legs to look more “attractive” and men don’t since men don’t have to expose their legs in public, or simply are “allowed" to bear body hair, is an obvious testament that women are objectified. Women’s legs are a sex symbol; beautiful, fragile and smooth objects that men get to lust over, while men's legs remain a symbol of power and strength since they are shown in conjunction with rigorous physical activity. Wrong again society! After now walking long distances and dancing in high heels myself, I could never view a women dancing in heels as anything but powerful; sensual yes, but dainty, nevermore. I am finding that it takes a different kind of strength and endurance that I’ve never discovered before with my legs when moving in high heels. My curiosity continues to grow. I want to join this enterprise of leg mastery. I took my new ladies latin heels to the ballroom studio to practice in them.
(Video of Kelsey and I practicing basic Cha Cha step)
In the video above my professional dance partner, Kelsey Burns, and I are demonstrating the two most basic steps in the Cha Cha; the lock step forward and backward and the side basic or chasse. You may have noticed that I’m wearing short shorts (booty shorts). I wore them because I wanted to see the activity of my legs. I constantly stress to my students about the importance of activating the different parts of the leg muscles for balance and strength so why not scrutinize my own. How ironic though that Kelsey decided to wear a full body tight that day. That wasn’t planned. You get to see us switch roles: a man with fully exposed legs and a women with her legs covered yet both dancing in the same high heels the same dance step. This, by the way, is a scene you will never find in a ballroom studio! I have taught in over fifteen ballroom studios and have never seen any man expose his legs or wear short shorts while practicing or teaching, let alone wearing ladies Latin heels. However, it’s very common you will see women’s legs exposed as mini skirts, short shorts, high slighted practice dresses are popular and actually encouraged to practice in. You think it's a conspiricay yet?
I wonder: Does having my legs exposed take away my masculinity in the movement? Does it make me look more sensual? Watching Kelsey dance with covered legs, does that reduce Kelsey’s femininity? Dancing next to a man with exposed legs, does it make her look stronger or weaker? In this next video, I’m doing a basic Rumba (American) box step in open facing position and closed position and the cross body lead. I’m the leader and Kelsey is the follower. What do you feel?
I’m gonna be honest with you. I enjoyed showing off my legs in the studio. I tested my abilities and started doing fast footwork patterns, spins and turns, kicks and lungs. What can I tell you? I’ve always wanted to see Tina Turner reincarnated into my legs. It was funny too how everyone’s face was either intrigued or confused to see a man in booty shorts and ladies latin high heels. There were several advanced Latin Ballroom couples and professionals practicing on the dance floor (the main practice space is shared in a ballroom studio) and one of the couples, a woman from Russia and a man from America, approached me afterwards. The man was surprised by my ability to dance well in high heels and admired my leg strength as he kept saying, “Man, your leg muscles are so strong!” His partner, however, wasn’t as enthusiastic. The first thing she said to me was, “So you must be trying out for that show on Broadway where the man dances in heels. What’s it called…Kinky Boots!” I told her that I wasn’t trying out for that show and that I was just practicing Latin dance technique and patterns in heels because I want to learn and experience how it feels so that I can understand better how to teach my own students who dance in high heels. She was okay with that but then when I went on to also explain more about the project I’m working on with gender roles in dance in relation to specifically high heels, she became reluctant. I told her how the ballroom dance world is very narrow minded with its view of gender roles when it comes to expression. She said, “I agree with some of the things you say but also disagree. I feel that the ballroom world is quite open and free and especially in NYC where it is more liberal.” I beg to differ. She may not have felt that the ballroom world needs to be challenged in its mindset towards gender roles but the very fact that the first assumption she made when seeing a man practicing in high heel shoes (and booty shorts) was that he must be trying out for a show featuring a drag role with men dancing in heels dressed as women, is an obvious example of her limited perception. Indeed, the ballroom dance world is narrow minded for this very fact that I can't walk into a ballroom dance studio with ladies latin heels on (in the performance/competion floor it would be illegal) without being looked at as a crossdresser. Immediately when a man is in high heels he is stereotyped as effeminate or trying to look like or be a women. When I was practicing in my high heels, I was not at all trying to “move like a woman” nor like a man for that matter. That didn’t even cross my mind. I was focused on simply the movement. Where does the power and strength come from, lifting and engaging my core continuously like a blender generating constant energy inside, using the back to guide my upper torso and arms, pressing into the floor to remain grounded; the same principles both men and female must practice in their dancing. This is what we should be focused on; the feeling, the intention and the sensation of the physical body. We are so concerned about being and looking like either a woman or man by the superficial outlayers we put on ourselves (especially in the ballroom world from what I’ve experienced) that perhaps we have forgotten more of the deeper inner landscaping that makes us human. I’m not at all denying the beauty of watching a man express his power in relation to a women expressing her sensuality, I simply feel that that shouldn't be the only option, the only picture. Why not mix it up? Why not see a man express his senuality in relationship to a women expressing her power?
So I love seeing exposed legs and it will probablly remain the body part that most appeals to me. Let's not deny it. Toned, long legs are insanley attractive. I've worked hard to get the leg definition I've aquired. I just want to show their glory without being marked as an exhibistionist. Apparently I'm some kind of anomaly to the equation of a man.
(Pictures of Tina Turner and those legs of hers!)
|Posted on December 29, 2014 at 4:50 PM||comments (3)|
Pelvis touching pelvis, body rolls, undulations, whips and dips and hair flying; these are cues of when you know you are probably caught in a Zouk frenzy. Originating from the "forbidden dance” known as Lambada, Brazilian Zouk is not at all for the reserved or conservative. It epitomizes freedom and sensuality with the spine loose and expressive and the hips girating. There are several styles of Zouk dance but the one I've been most exposed to is the Brazilian Zouk which is a mix of Lambada dance from Brazil, Zouk music from the French Antilles, and Caribbean Zouk movement. I have several close friends who practice, perform and teach it professionally. That is why I decided to go to a Zouk social for my first test drive with lead and follow in my new ladies Latin heels. I am pretty comfortable with the zouk community so I didnt feel too out of place but I'm still relatively new to the dance style so I was still a little nervous. I have only officially taken one Zouk class (by Henri Velandia) but I have gone to several socials and have learned mostly through observation. Because I have an extensive background in lead and follow through social dance in Ballroom, Latin and Swing genres (I've been teaching for over nine years) picking up the basis of Zouk wasn't difficult, however, understanding the initiation points for certain leads and the points of connection used to manipulate the follower within the Zouk approach is still somewhat a new concept to me. For example, in Salsa a lot of patterns are led with your hands and arms while in Brazilian Zouk it may be led by different parts of the body such as the back or rib cage. Salsa also focuses most of the body action from the waist down with emphasis in the feet and legs and because it's faster in tempo, the movements tend to be sharper. Brazilian Zouk, on the other hand, is slower in tempo which allows for sequentially through the movement patterns and more isolation through the hips, torso and head that encourages a sensuality in it's flow. The video below is Lambada where part of the movement of what now is known as Brazilian Zouk comes from, however, many Brazilian Zouk dancers prefer to avoid the affiliation with the forbidden dance, not only because they no longer dance in the twisty style once associated with the name lambada, but also because they no longer dance to lambada music.
(Video of Lambada dance)
I went to the Zouk social at Stepping Out Studios that they have there every Wednesday night from 9:30pm-12 midnight. I got there later than planned because I was coming from rehearsal that ended late so there was only a couple of people left. I was still shy though about social dancing in my heels because first off, I have never danced in these heels before so I didn’t want to fall and make a fool of myself. Second, I am not at all an experienced zouk dancer since I’ve only been to a handful of zouk socials and third, I was a little self conscious about seeing all the other men dancing in flats or sneakers. It’s not everyday you see a guy dancing zouk in heels especially because the leader’s role is what one would judge as very weighted and masculine. They have to be the support for the follower who is usually the one to do the more embellished movements, which mostly women play. If I’m in heels, could I still be perceived as grounded and “masculine” when I’m raised so far over the ball of my feet? Would I immediately be judged as feminine when seen in high heels? Well, I’ll let you decide how you feel by what you see.
(First social dance with my heels, Brazilian Zouk, with Jessica)
I should mention the dancer you see me partnering, Jessica Lamdon, is a professional zouk dancer and an incredibly skilled one. She was the one running the social that night and taught the class before at 7:30pm-8:30pm and 8:30pm-9:30pm. I was very fortunate to have the chance to dance with her. She is so fun to dance with and is a very receptive and expressive. I have lead her before in flat shoes at previous socials I've attended but never in heels. I know there are some of you reading this probably wondering what exactly do I mean by leader and follower. Basically, social dancing is a structured improvisational movement practice between two people where the initiator (leader) sends an impulse from their body to cause a reaction from the receiver (follower). In all partnered social dances, there is a musical and basic movement foundation that serve as a basis for the particular style of dance. With lead and follow social dancing, you switch partners and dance with different people with whom you may have never met before. Nothing is choreographed so you have to really be in tune with your partner in each moment, communicating in physical conversation. Some styles are more standardized than others and therefore more structured. For instance, with the Standard Ballroom dances (i.e. waltz, foxtrot, tango quickstep, viennese) most of the patterns are codified within a certain syllabus so the steps lead and followed are learned, wheres in what people refer to as “street” dances, there are steps that you can make up on the spot with your partner that isn’t necessarily an already learned pattern, therefore leaving more opportunity for freestyled movement (i.e. west coast swing, argentine tango, salsa, zouk). Many of the street dances can and have become standardized like salsa, chacha, rumba, swing, etc. within the ballroom setting. Some would argue that standardization has taken the soul out of the dance and some would argue that it has allowed the dance style to evolve into a more theatrical expression. I feel there is truth in both but I say soul and feeling should always come first yet with some technical background to facilitate not necessarily control (you have to be able to let go) but a sense of body awareness, alignment, range and strength. My rehearsal director, Denise Vale, for the Martha Graham Dance Company said during class recently, “Technique isn’t the ability to control; it’s the ability to catch the throw.”
(2nd song dancing in high heels)
I found myself interchanging patterns from salsa and bachata in zouk which isn't uncommon. Fusion is very popular nowadays. People like to take elements from one genre and intertwine them with another (i.e. bachatango, lambazouk, kizomba). Perhaps this is also a reason why there is fusion in the music as well. Traditionally, Zouk music derives from the French Antilles in the Caribbean of Guadeloupe and Martinique and fuses the native Caribbean rhythms with Western and West African elements. However, nowadays it’s common you will hear popular hits on the radio that are remixed to a zouk beat and rhythm that the DJ will play during a Zouk social dance. I personally enjoy that there is a diverse range in genres of music within Brazilian Zouk that you won’t find in other Latin social dances such as, salsa, bachata, argentine tango, etc. In the videos posted above, in the first one I’m social dancing to a song by Taylor Swift, “Blank Space" that was remixed by another artist and given a Zouk rhythm. In the other video, it’s a hip-hop/electronic piece of music. This eclectic array of music gives space for multi faceted expressions within this dance style.
Not once when I was dancing with Jessica did I feel any different than dancing Zouk times before in flats. Yes the feeling of being in heels was a new sensation for my own body but it didn’t compromise my role as a leader. I was still able to support and guide my partner through the movements and my impulse wasn't affected by the heels. the power with in my core and back was active as ever. My intuition still came from within my physical instincts. The guy who was the DJ, James Powell, and who is also a Zouk dancer, told me that he was impressed by how I was able to dance in heels but also that I moved so well with my partner. This experience social dancing in high heels affirmed in me that movement comes from the heart not from the superficial outer layers of costuming. Whether in heels, flats or barefeet, you bring to the dance floor who you are in that moment regardless. Dancing is always a riot.
|Posted on December 20, 2014 at 3:05 AM||comments (2)|
Forget ruby slippers! The wizard of Oz just gave me the magic I needed and it came in a dark tan, satin 3.5 inch women's Latin Ballroom heel. With the click of my heels, poof, I was home where I knew I belonged. It’ll be our little secret but apparently, the wizard lives at 580 8th ave. on the 2nd floor in the kingdom of Worldtone Dance Shoes: Dancesport & Theatrical Shoes. I had entered the “High Heel” city welcomed by shelves upon shelves of dance shoes, and I’m talking competitive ballroom, competitive latin, tango, salsa, swing, and theatrical shoes with even an array of practice sneakers. When I asked the lady, Jasmine, at the front desk what exactly I was searching for and if she had a size in stock, she said without hesitation, “let me check.” To my surprise she brought out six boxes. I couldn’t believe they had shoes already made for someone my size! We were of to a good start. Two of the six pairs of shoes fit me but neither was the style I wanted and now that I realized they had a plethora of large sized high heels, I wasn't shy to ask for a shoe more specific to what I desired. I wanted at least a 3 inch heel (to leverage me more over the ball of my foot), opened toed (for foot articulation and to point my toes) and in satin with a dark tan color (to match my skin tone). She brought out five more boxes. Couple of the shoes fit but the heels were too short and another one fit but the color was black. Okay, maybe I was being a little too picky and perhaps my will power to find this specific shoe went a little over my head. Yes, there were many shoes there that matched perfectly my description but, again, they were not sold in stock in my size which means I would have had to custom order. Jasmine said to custom order my size would cost double the price and take minimum three months to receive, the same ordeal I heard from the other shoe shops I visited. I would be back to square one.
(First attempt of trying heels; notice all 13 boxes of shoes I had tried on!)
You have to understand, after searching almost all major brand name competitive ballroom websites and also ones that were said to have larger sized shoes but ended up not having any in stock when I inquired, I thought I would see the end of this journey in search of actual women’s Latin Ballroom high heels that could fit me without having to take out a loan to buy a pair. A student of mine, Ana, even took the inititavtive to do extra research as to dissuade me from giving up. She searched online at nycdanestore.com, overstock.com, zappos.com, danceshoesonline.com, ballroomusa.com, and the list goes on. She even spoke to one of her local dance shoe stores, Dance Footlights, and Ana emailed me:
"The lady was very helpful and said she was going to speak to the store owner who deals with vendors and would know where and if you can get large size dance shoes. She just called me back-- she unfortunately did not have good news. Their supplier confirmed they do not make ladies Latin shoes larger than size 10 1/2. The supplier said they are running into this issue often, so while I am sorry this is another dead end, at least I am hopeful that with higher demand they will start to think about making these shoes. The advice they gave her, to give to you is to buy regular street shoes you like and take them to a shoe cobbler to put the suede bottom on!"
A cobbler? I mean it sounded like an good idea…if I was trying to build some kind of special handcrafted shoe like that of Lady Gaga, but I am not trying to find shoes to dance on Mars (one day though) nor make shoes that look like they’re from outer space.
(Second attempt of trying heels)
Jasmine understood that I wasn't any ordinary person coming in for shoes. I explained to her my dance background and my purpose for getting heels and she nodded and said she would ask the manager if there was any other possibilities. She was so helpful. She never sighed like the the man at T.O. Dey shoe store who was completely indifferent nor like the lady at Menkes, who was nice but unorganized and unreliable. Jasmine brought out two more shoes and I found my diamond in the rough, and they were the last pair they had in that size. Someone up there must love me. It was a Mambo Shines Bachata Laza size 11. Interestingly enough, being two sizes smaller than my everyday shoe size works for dance shoes. When I tried them on I had to finagle my feet through to fit because they were tight but I realized that they needed to be otherwise I wouldn't have much security and control for dancing. Like a tight glove, dance shoes must mold to your feet. It must have been the layered strapped material in the front that had some give to it or perhaps the width of the shoe because I tried other shoes in size 13 and 12 but they didn't quite fit me so it really depends on the make and style of the shoe. Now I know even with dance heels you should buy a size smaller than your actual size. Yeah it means tighter which means more callous and bigger bunions but it also means you won't be wobbling with your feet moving around your shoe while dancing. Not safe! Since when did dancers ever have nice feet anyways.
After trying thirteen pairs of shoes, I found my match. When I put the shoes on, I walked over to the linoleum tile floor with the mirror in front to test out the shoes. I couldn't help myself. I started doing cha cha lock steps and proceeded to do turns and spins into deep lunges. I just loved the feeling the heels gave me. Two lady's kept watching me who were also trying on heels for themselves and one said, "you gotta be a professional," and I told her that I was but I'm an amateur at heels and she said, "not the way you're moving in them!" I get tickled by the enthusiasm. There was a man who came by me to try on men's ballroom shoes while I was trying on the women's. He didn't say anything and I wondered if perhaps he felt uncomfortable but he didn't pay me any mind and looked liked it didn't bother him. I should have asked him what he thought...
(Taking a test drive of heels on the floor)
I asked Jasmine if it is unusual for a man to come into the shop looking for women's heels and she said that it isn't uncommon and that they get a good number of men who come in search for women's shoes. Wherever you are guys, I'm searching for you and want to see your moves. Come out and express your elevation!
(Picture of Jasmine who sold me my first pair of ladies latin heels)
|Posted on December 10, 2014 at 2:30 AM||comments (1)|
Words usually associated with pole dancing: erotic, night club, sex, stripping.
Words I associate with pole dancing: strength, flexibility, sensual, bruises.
When I walked into my first pole dancing class at Body & Pole NYC, I was the only guy which didn’t surprise me, however, I was surprised by the fact that there were women of all ages and body types, not just the voluptuous feminine figure we tend to associate with when we think of a pole dancer. There were some women curvy, some heavy weighted, some lean and thin and some quite muscular in their build, even more than me! Ages ranged from 18 to 60. When I entered the room I was nervous because I have to admit, I felt I would be in a domain where perhaps a masculine presence, for whatever reason, wouldn't be welcomed. Oh so to the contrary! When I entered, one of the students yelled "we got a man!" Everyone welcomed me with smiles and excitement. I had no knowledge of how class would be structured so by my apparent confusion of where to place myself in the room, another student took the initiative and guided me on what materials I would need and brought me a mat and yoga block from the stash in the corner. Yoga mat in pole dancing? Yes, there is actually a regimented conditioning routine to practicing it like every other art form. They also brought me a spray bottle of alcohol and a washcloth from the corner explaining that I would need to spray the cloth with alcohol to wipe down the pole after using it each time that way I could maintain a steady tight grip and not slip since your hands become sweaty. Plus you want to keep it sanitized since you share the pole with a partner doing trade offs between the exercises and combinations. I wasn't left to fend on my own. I felt like I was already a part of the crew and felt excited to be there. When I sat on my mat waiting for class to start, I started stretching into splits and straddle positions to warm up like the dancerly dancer I am and another lady said "...and he's flexible! You are making us look bad," and we all laughed.
At least 45 minutes of the class is devoted to body conditioning. We did various abdominal and cardiovascular exercises along with a series of stretches. It felt like a Pilates class but to fun music and with a mix of dance. There is even a short part of the class where we go across the floor to do some movement exercise that supplement the pole work (usually floorwork) before actually working with the pole. I was sweating by the end of it. After that we moved to the pole and was given specific technical instructions as to how to hold the pole, where to place your feet and legs against it, etc. and then given a combination of various patterns and tricks. It takes an incredible amount of back, shoulder, core and inner thigh strength to climb, hang and slide down a pole, some of the most basic parts of pole dancing…and the teacher did it so effortlessly. I had bruises on the fronts of my feet and on my inner thighs from gripping the pole and sliding down it. In pole dance, the pole is steel so in order to grip it, you can’t wear socks or pants or sleeves because you will slide off. In fact, the dress code is short shorts and a sports bra or tank top. The burns in my inner thighs was a whole new sensation of discomfort I had never felt.
(Video of my first pole dancing class)
It’s important to know too, that there are various forms of “Pole.” There is Chinese Pole where the pole is laced with a rubber material which requires them to be covered and wear layers of clothing or full body costumes so as not to get burned from the friction. This form of pole originates over eight centuries ago with circus performers of that era that used a pole in their acts. Another form is Indian pole or “Mallakhamb” which also dates back many hundreds of years ago. This pole is made of wood and would be laced with castor oil to avoid friction since they, unlike Chinese, would wear little clothing like that of yoga wear. It’s interesting to note from my research, that Indian pole was originally intended as a way for wrestlers to train. Yes that’s right, wrestlers! In fact, the literal translation of Mallakhamb is “wrestler of pole” so whoever said pole is for sissies, they were clearly speaking from a place of pure ignorance. It is also even a male dominated sport in which women don’t participate. It’s so important for people to know that what these performers do on a pole is such a difficult physical practice that takes a certain level of fitness skills. Some people take pole dancing just for that reason. I left class with a whole new respect for pole dancing. It’s a real workout!
I have taken two pole dancing classes so far. The first class was level 1 of which I was recommended to skip the introduction level since I already had a strong background in dance. I picked it up pretty well so after my first class my teacher, Danielle Romano, told me I was ready to take level 2 for my next class so that’s what I did. Level 2 was more difficult but I was still able to execute all the tricks so I was feeling confident. There was another male in this class this time visiting from France who said that back home in France, it’s difficult to find a place where men take pole dancing. He was excited about being at Body and Pole NYC because it's open to both male and female. Actually, even the changing rooms are unisex. There are no male or female changing rooms or lockers; everyone changes in the same area. The bathrooms though, are separated by male and female.
In class, I haven’t heard or been told to “dance sexy.” You basically are given pole material and at the end of class you freestyle your transitions in between, either that is in a sensually evocative manner or perhaps an emotionally expressive approach that in no means is defined as a feminine or masculine way of pole dancing in either choice of expression. It allows for individuality and is not limiting. I like how I’m not told how to exactly interact with the pole. It is a great way to promote pole dancing under a different perception than just a sexual form. However, if that is how you enjoy expressing yourself then go for it! I mean, I enjoy all the spectrum of expressions. Take a look. This is a combination I came up with on my own after taking only two classes and it’s my first time trying pole dancing in high heeled stilettos. I went to the studio during "open play time" where you practice on your own without an instructor.
(Video of my pole dance routine in heels)
As you must have come to assume by now, I really enjoy the feeling of high heels and stilettos. It allows me to become a character of which I associate with as powerful, long, and fluid. I love that. Yeah pole dancing with high heels feels more comfortable for me and I actually prefer it to pole dancing barefoot. It actually was easier to grip the pole with my feet because of the sticky patent leather material of the shoe. However, dancing with a pole, whether barefoot or in high heels, is no doubt tricky. Not only do you have to execute tricks that require tremendous strength and agility but you are presented with an apparatus that you must mold to. You leave it and come back to it. It’s essentially a duet. That may be the most challenging part: how to dance 'with' the pole. I look forward to training more in this art form. Perhaps it could be consider my "guilty pleasure" but in no means do I feel ashamed. Below is a video of one my teachers in a performance where she actually builds a character and story in a piece of choreography she created that is a very modern and contemporary approach to pole dancing. In no way does her gender constrict her expression to be that of the social perception of how a women dancing with a pole dances like. She and many others are opening up the platform of pole dancing and breaking down barriers. Bravo! Next, Ballroom Dance.
(Video of contemporary pole dance performance by Danielle Romano)
|Posted on November 24, 2014 at 2:55 PM||comments (1)|
I took Cecilia Marta’s “Latin Fusion” advanced beginner class at Broadway Dance Center tonight. I feel so liberated! Cecilia is from Panama and in her Latin Fusion class the focus is her Latin Roots with a world attitude. Her original style emphasizes the importance of fluidity through instinctual, organic and sensual movements. She has also developed a warm-up that awakens the senses through awareness of the breath, body alignment and isolations. I have been taking class from Cecilia for two years and have also performed with her dance company (Cecilia Marta Dance Company) so I am no stranger to her style, but I have never taken her class in my 5-inch stiletto boots before. This was my first time. I absolutely love it and it's kind of awkward to say that it feels very natural to me to dance in high heels even though this is only my third time wearing them. Perhaps in my past life I was some kind of showgirl. My legs are a little tired, but I don’t feel any pain from the heels. It’s mostly my feet that are sore especially my bunions and the sole under the ball of my feet. When dancing the combination, I felt the sensation of hovering as if suspended over a raised platform, and in my effort to not fall off, I had to engage even more so my inner thighs and core to stay balanced. I actually felt stronger in my legs but at the same time, my toe articulation was stifled by being jammed up in a closed-toed and triangular shaped tip shoe. Being barefoot means you have the ability to spread your toes and grip the floor which allows the feet more proficiency. When in a closed toed shoe, you don’t have that ability. I believe the next dance class I take will need to be with an opened toed shoe; then I will be invincible.
(Video below: Here's a clip of combination!)
Cecilia Marta always emphasizes technique in her style in that the main attention is on the core and the back as the initiators of movement and power that inspire the rest of the body to react naturally with fluidity yet strength. When asking her about the use of high heels in her class she said that she doesn't feel the necessity for high heels in her class and feels that high heels could, in fact, be compromising to the movement, more so for the less advanced dancers who have a lesser understanding of technique. She added that the best approach to simplifying is not to encourage wearing high heels, which I find very intriguing because the high heels then, are not an apparatus to her dance style but instead, it’s the connection within one’s own physical center and core that must be relied upon to execute the movement properly. This suggests that high heels could then be just an affectation.
In fact, in Cecilia’s class, she has coined the term “organic pumps” which means dancing in releve (standing up on toes) as if you are wearing stilettos but as a replacement. Cecilia said to me concerning the organic pumps, “It’s a discovery. I love the use of the floor and what has happened with my feet and the fluidity that I have acquired with them. I’m developing a different strength in how I am using the floor and it’s not that I’m against the use of high heels. It’s simply the difference between relying on a platform to sustain that feeling of being elevated versus the sensation and feeling of the feet coming at your legs to the physical body, which I feel has made me much stronger and fluid.” (You can hear more of Cecilia’s comments below and in her interview under the "A Walk In Yours" page).
(Video below: Cecilia talks about her style & technique of dance)
I felt so welcomed to Cecilia’s language of dance and movement when I took my first class with her. There was no distinction from male and female expressions. Both the men and women in class did the sensual phrases, the movements in organic pumps and the isolation sequences flat footed that are grounded and weighted. In her class, you as the individual artist get to choose what feels natural to you, yet sticking to the integrity of the movement phrase and intention. There is a clear set developmental structure based in her style but also a sense of freedom that isn’t penumbral to the training process. I felt right at home and safe to be me. This is the kind of atmosphere I feel is imperative to create, especially for the youth, so you can develop confidence in expressing your individuality without social hinderance and be comfortable with your natural self as opposed to changing you natural inclinations because of being told what is the way one should move. Cecilia said in her interview that there is a bright place in all of us and when we allow that light to shine through that's when we are in our most honest place. In our society, I feel that women are allowed to be bright and exuberant and are pretty much accepted in both tough and soft roles but for some reason, men tend to hold back from allowing themselves to be soft, light and bright as if it is a symbol of weakness or comprimised their "masculinity". I say to the hell with that notion. Let your light shine! Growing up, I yearned for a place like this where I wouldn't be judged for the kind of person I was or wanted to be. It should be no coincidence then that I have fell in love with Cecilia and her style of movement.
I love the part of class where we huddle up in a group in the center of the floor and follow Cecilia’s isolations to the music and express a full spectrum of body and rhythmic patterns as a community. Men and women are not separated and neither are the movement patterns distinguished by gender. Everyone taps into their sensually rhythmical being a la Cecilia Marta; the Gata Negra herself. She is part of the full-time faculty at Broadway Dance Center so if you ever get a chance to, I highly recommend you take class from this true dance master and movement genius. Get in touch with the sensual, soulful and bright creature inside you, whatever you define that person as, that is inside us all.
(Picture with students of Cecilia after class: Catherine (left) & Eriko (right)