Re: Reading a Book a Week… by John Fish

Before writing this, I watched the above video by John Fish in which he explains the horrific truth about our educational system. I instantly felt inspired to write about my experience with reading. I highly recommend watching it. He’s a Canadian too!

Remember those dreadful days of high school when your English teacher presented the class books for the semester and no one was allowed to complain? No one could suggest a different book, because it had to be a part of the curriculum list that hasn’t been updated since Shakespeare was alive. The teacher would sometimes even hate the book she/he had to discuss with us. What’s wrong with this picture?

When I was a young child, reading was my escape. Morgan le Fay would wisk Annie, Jack and I away on an adventure in the Magic Tree House series. I still recall how excited I was when my mom bought me a new Geronimo Stilton book for Christmas. Authors like Beverley Cleary, Laura Dower, Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen, Cornelia Funke, Jeff Kinney, I could go on…. So many books were dog-eared and bent out of form because of my obsession with reading. It was like words could transfer me to a new environment even though it was just black and white on the page. So then, how come when I got to high school and suddenly my favourite thing to do was being graded, I fell out of love?

My bookshelves got dustier, my brain got cloudier, and I felt forced into reading classic novels. As well, my classmates and I had to agree on specific opinions about a book or else we would get a bad grade. I probably would have eaten up these literary gems if it had not been required by my school board to like them. Due to the fact that we knew our book studies ended with us writing an essay, I started to develop demonic strategies when I read. I became less interested in absorbing the lessons in a certain book, and more worried about making sure I could find sources for my argument. Suddenly, I had to read on a deadline, and my comprehension suffered in some ways. I read faster, but more messy. Constantly having to memorize page numbers so that the teacher knew I had actually read the book. What’s silly now is that I can’t let go of these habits when I try and read for fun. I shudder to think of how messed up my brain is from the intensities of my high school learning. I am not even going to talk about the redundancies of MLA citing.

Without getting too dramatic, there were benefits to reading in the way my high school asked us to. I am able to back up an argument by laying out clear examples from primary sources. I am confident in reading out loud with added character traits if needed. I am capable of reading multiple books at one time. Finally, I know the context of the famous Hamlet quote “To be or not to be”. So, not everything about high school English was bad. My Gr. 12 English teacher was one of my favourite educators ever. She taught me to be creative in my writing and take chances outside of the typical essay format. I could even tell that she, herself, didn’t agree with some of the curriculum standards.

If I am going to reflect on the impact of reading, I need to look at a timeline of my obsession with books, starting with the younger part of my childhood. My mom says I started reading chapter books at age 4. That means that before I was instructed to read, I loved books. This is of course due to the fact that my parents scheduled reading time before every goodnight. It is embedded in my brain as a positive and relaxing activity for my mind.

As I mentioned above, the Magic Tree House books were so special to me, and they probably were the first series I ever grew a crush on. I think I must have read at least 25 of the books in a line-up of 58. They were like medicine to me. Mary Pope Osbourne, I owe it to you to begin a reading addiction that would last my whole lifetime. Then, I believe I moved onto wittier books like Elisabetta’s Geronimo Stilton, Dav Pikey’s Captain Underpants, and Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody. Unlike anything I had ever seen, these three series gave me more colour and imagination. The words could suddenly be painted onto the page rather than typed. My expansive mind was taken to new worlds and I got to laugh more along the way. This period of ages 4-6 is what I like to call “The Simpler Years”.

When I turned 7, I knew that I wasn’t just a child anymore. I was a REAL person. So naturally, my interests shifted to books about history, philosophy, and boys. I remember taking trips to Chapters and leaving the children’s section behind. I wanted to read what my mom was reading, but she guided me to fiction novels that would suit my maturity more sufficiently. Dear Canada is a series of very educational books that showed me the saddest historical events through the eyes of a child. It was written by use of fictionalized diary entries from children who lived during times of war and poverty. Although the topics were deeply profound, I was able to learn about Canada’s history in an honest way. As well, I found solace in a book called Chicken Soup for the Pre-Teen Soul. Written by real-life pre-teens, Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen compile an master list of anecdotes that prepared me for growing up. I read this book from a pre-mature philosophical standpoint and the whole series was my first self-help books. Then, my friends, came a HUGE obsession with a series titled From the Files of Madison Finn. These books held me captive while I learned about Madison stumbling through middle school. Funny enough, she has a sort of “blog” where she uses her laptop as a diary. I started my own diary on my sister’s old laptop, and I had to make it a private folder (to which I lost the password for). I wonder what sort of crazy stuff is lost in cyber-space now! Laura Dower’s series also gave me a chance to read about the confusing stages of having a crush. Madison’s crush is on her classmate Hart Jones. He is a mystical creature that still gives me butterflies. I mean his name is HART! Let’s call this period of ages 7-9 “The Mature for My Age Years”.

Grades 5, 6 and 7 were a different story, pun intended, because the thickness of the books got WAY bigger. Now, I was double digits and ready to tackle the big guns. I want to call this period “The Twilight Years” for the obvious reasons… Stephanie Meyer had my full attention. Suddenly, I was reading about sexual vampires with lust and confusing emotions. I read all four books, plus the novella The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, and saw all the movies at least twice. Team Edward all the way!!….. yeah, it’s so stupid when I think about it now…. But, I cannot lie when I say I don’t remember reading much else when I was ages 10-13, except for maybe The Hunger Games or The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. These years set me up for hardships of relationships.

Here is where it gets depressing. During the years of 2011-2016, I barely read for fun. Generally, if you saw me reading, it was because I had to read it for school assignments. Shakespeare, Harper Lee, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, Arthur Miller and others became the only authors on my radar for a long time. Additionally, I had less time to sit down and read because my schedule with competitive dance heated up and the internet grew as a cultural phenomenon. During the summer, I focused on dance training more, but I would never take that back. I just feel so sad that most of my teenage years did not involve leisure reading. To be truly honest, I am wondering if maybe my mental state of mind collapsed because I let go of meditative reading sessions that clear my thoughts and sooth my psyche. This period is unfortunately called “The Lost Years”.

In conclusion, I want to renew myself. I can see that reading has been a positive part of my well-being and I am hoping that the school boards across the globe will take a different approach to literature so that more young adults will be inclined to read instead of reluctant to read. If I take the time to close my laptop and phone, I believe it will send me towards a genuine path to happiness.

For some fun, please enjoy Carrie Hope Fletcher’s song that I love. Click here.

NBC’s The Dreamers Ever Leave You

The National Ballet of Canada’s staging of The Dreamers Ever Leave You incorporated live piano accompaniment performed by the composer of the score. He ran through four sections of continuous trills and chord progressions while the dancers exchanged between solo and duet formations. When the pianist would stop to move onto a new section, the dancers sporadically stomped their feet. I also detected that the dancers never seemed to move the exact same way as one another, but they phrased their movements along with the different accents in the music. Although repetition was avoided, I saw many lifts between the men and women where their limbs were extended and their bodies were intertwined. At times during the performance, dancers would be motionless on the floor, lying in the shadows of a big curtain that hung from the ceiling. This backdrop was either hung low in the middle of the stage or a small portion would peek out from the ceiling. It was white, deformed, and bunched up at various places, giving a greater depth to the stage. In terms of lighting, I saw pale tones of beige, pink, orange, or turquoise, depending on the unique musical sections. Spotlights followed the movements, but not always shone on the featured dancer(s). There were distinct prototypes of costumes using either baggy shirts and pants or tight fitting shorts and tank tops. The women slicked their hair into a tight bun and finished their legs with pointe shoes. As the women floated on their toes, the men referred to intense turning jumps as their main trademark.

This performance reminded me of a group of people living in a dark cave. The hanging curtain was so visually impressive that it completely drew me into a decomposing cave after an apocalypse. While the dancers would leave the cave and be in the sunlight, the moments when the dancers would lie on their backs brought an image of sleep deprivation. It made me think that they could be trying to fall asleep, but ultimately, they must return to dancing out of a desire to see the sun again. As well, the piano sounds mimicked a hummingbird, in my opinion. I started to visualize a singular hummingbird flying around the dancers that would bring a beacon of hope during the aftermath of destruction. Thus, the music and movement were so well connected to the overall storyline.

My general feelings about the piece were that it was about ten minutes too long. Due to the fact that the musical accompaniment was inevitably the same quality throughout, I did get to a point where I wished for a dramatic change of tone so that the audience would be caught off guard. I liked the odd times when the pianist would take a small break in between sections because it helped me, as an audience member, to catch up on what I just witnessed. It progressively got frantic, and I started to feel anxious that I could not keep up. Not only were the silent moments a nice recess for the audience, but the dancers could prolong the ambiance as they stomped their feet.

A question that came to my mind after watching was if there were too many notes for the musical score. The hummingbird flaps its wings so fast that maybe there is not enough time to experience its beauty. I wondered if the piano sounds got too muffled and overlapped for the audience to really listen to it. Another question in my brain was if when Robert Binet was in the process of choreographing, if he focused a lot on the limbs of the body because the intention seemed to be coming from the dancers’ arms and legs rather than the pelvis or chest. The lifts that the men and women executed highlighted the extension of the arms and legs; therefore, I pondered about where Binet wanted the audience’s eyes to be drawn to.

From this performance, I inferred that there is a blurry line between being asleep and being awake. Although the music began to feel panic-stricken, the general tone of the piece gave the impression that the dancers were conflicted between resting in darkness or being free to dance in the sunlight outside of the cave. If there was a meaning for this piece, I believe it was that in times of sadness and distress, the influence of a fluttery hummingbird can bring optimism to our lives.

MOMENTUM Film Critique

The film MOMENTUM boldly describes a man’s connection to movement in an astounding way. Boris Seewald, the director, manages to introduce the principal character, Patrick, without giving away the real secret behind his personality. I was very intrigued from the beginning as to what Patrick wanted to share with the audience, and I felt confused about why the location of an empty house would be the ideal environment for this story-telling. However, his colloquial dialogue and mannerisms gave me the impression that the setting would not matter; he is going to tell an interesting story, nonetheless. As well, the addition of the mother character is brilliant for a half-way twist and keeps the audience engaged as they watch her dance moves and listen to his words.

While Patrick talks to a person who is off-screen, the audience is treated to a very calm opening sequence with no extra sound but Patrick’s cheeky voice. He begins his silly story by talking about nacho chips as being the thing that initiates his urge to dance, and slowly we see that he cannot describe the story unless he moves around. He gets to be at a loss for words, so he starts moving in a frantic manner. Then, he explains that anyone has the tendency to move when the urge comes around and his mom, who sports two elegant outfits, is also included in the dance party. Together, they spin, punch and smile their way around the abandoned house as a music track picks up and leaves are thrown. With the music at a rapid tempo, the two shakers seem to be dancing like no one is watching, and projections are displayed behind them. Patrick finishes by declaring that his inspiration comes from nowhere but a tortilla chip.

The whole film has a nice crescendo to it in that it starts with a quiet conversation with Patrick. The audience is able to hear him on a personal level, and then get transported to his world of movement and drumming. I think it is well-structured in that sense. The message also resonated with me not only as a dancer but as a human because I understand the concept of finding rhythm in any conceivable way. It comes from inside of our bodies, and the story of Patrick’s nacho adventure is very relatable to his audience. As well, I like the use of leaves and in some ways, the leaves are also a character. When they are tossed up, it shows a clear example of momentum and randomness, similar to Patrick and his mother’s moves.

In terms of what I did not like, I am confused about why it is shot in what seems to be an empty house. It feels too bland and does not make sense as to why Patrick would be telling this story in this location. The characters are blocked off from the rest of the world by being in a closed setting. In my opinion, it should have been shot outside in a park where we could see other people walking by or stopping to join the dance party. Also, due to the fact that his story is about a high school dance, I feel as though the music that is played in the background is too intense and probably would not be the song playing at the disco. A better choice would be a pop song that could bring life to his story a bit better, instead of using drumming noise that reminds me too much of tribal dancing.

To conclude, I am amazed at how a simple story can be so captivating and why the director chose such a unique inspiration within a nacho chip to make a film. As well, I think the actors were so committed to the outburst of dancing and held nothing back, which made the message very clear: movement can come from anywhere. Although the location and music did not quite match the film’s charming personality, in my opinion, I think the film did a wonderful  job of starting off slow and building up to a climatic and exciting ending.

Re: Tessa and Scott Free Dance at Grand Prix 2017

I cannot begin to explain my love for this performance. But I will…

First of all, the use of Moulin Rouge’s daring and seductive score inhabits so much of their journey together. The raw energy of their hard work and passion oozes out of the music and gathers everything so perfectly. They blast out of the gate with “Roxanne” to introduce themselves as fierce competitors, showing not only their ballroom background, but the control in their timing. Then they switch so effortlessly into one of my favourite pieces of art, the song “Come What May” and remind us that their chemistry is unique. No one can do it like them. No one has the partnership that they grew, and no one will compare. I am so unbelievably impressed by the connection and respect that they have for each other. I hope to one day exhibit that much trust on a stage.

Continuing on, since I don’t know much about the technical side of skating, I look to the ballet aspect that is displayed in their lines and extensions. Not only is the shape and structure in tune with the speed of their bodies, but they do it as a duet!! I have trouble just focusing on my own position; imagine adding the factor of a whole other person!!!! The way they come in and out of gorgeous positions has the quality that I only DREAM to portray. And of course, they have so much texture to the plié and extension that I, as an audience member, feel comfortable watching them defy gravity. It is so magical and visually pleasing.

Last point (except not really). We all see the focus they have. RIGHT FROM THE START. Tessa knows that she can be there present if she settles herself into her beginning pose in a calm way. Scott handles his masculinity and strength by being so peaceful and serene. (and can we just take a parentheses break to talk about his turnout… i’m sorry but how does THAT happen?) As individual athletes, their attention to “the zone” has me so amazed. Nothing could sway them. And no one wants to because when two people care so much about their art and the way they present it, WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU SCREW WITH THAT? They know that the only way to be successful in an artistic industry is to focus on the now. What is going on now. Where they are, what they can do with their mind, and how it will affect the audience.

I continually find myself crying after their programs, even during ones that are joyous. This comes from my excitement of being able to watch such a creative duo. It is truly one of a kind and deserves all the recognition in the world. Tessa, Scott, bravo on so many levels. I support all that you do. Please don’t go away. EVER.