Dance Magic Dance

Unlike all of the major newspapers, radio stations and news programmes I didn’t have an obituary ready for the day my favourite musician David Bowie passed away. I didn’t want to think such a thing would happen – surely if anyone could defy time and live forever it would be David Bowie – but that saddest of days has come. David Bowie, just turned 69, “died peacefully, surrounded by his family after an 18-month battle with cancer”, the BBC reported today.

David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

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I’ve always been a massive David Bowie fan. Like millions of people around the world, from multiple generations, Bowie’s music has been with me my whole life, influencing me in so many ways. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know who he was. I suppose I just grew up listening to his music with my mum, who is also a big fan. We both shed a tear or two this morning when the news was announced on the radio and we texted each other.

I won’t waffle on too much today, but I wanted to share some of my earliest memories of Bowie with you, dear reader. The Labyrinth (1986) has always been one of my favourite films, and I could watch it over and over again. For anyone who has been living under a rock their whole lives and hasn’t seen it. David Bowie stars in The Labyrinth alongside Jennifer Connelly (Sarah) as the beautiful goblin king Jareth who has stolen Sarah’s annoying baby brother. Sarah has to face the labyrinth, and the intimidating, ball spinning, tight trouser wearing goblin king in order to get the baby back. The entire soundtrack is also by Bowie, and I’m not ashamed to say I still know every word to every song.

Jareth & Sarah in The Labyrinth

Jareth & Sarah in The Labyrinth

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Don’t even get me started on all of the things I love about The Labyrinth, but I will say that I grew up with the above image firmly planted in my mind. I wanted to be Sarah, wearing that dress and dancing with the goblin king. And hell, he could have kept the baby for all I would have cared!

I remember learning word for word the lines Sarah has to say to Jareth at the end of the movie, and I used to say it to myself all the time when I was having a bad time at school or feeling unhappy about something.

“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great. You have no power over me!”

There are so many amazing moments in The Labyrinth, but I’ll leave you with just two more…

Rest in peace David Bowie, you beautiful, brilliant man. You’ll never be forgotten.

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2015: The year I danced (like nobody was watching)

I haven’t posted here on AliMuskett.com since August 2013. I’ve often thought of things I could post, but when I’ve had time to write I’ve always focussed my attention on Haikugirl’s Japan, which is after all my main blog. Since 2013 a lot has happened. I moved to Bristol in May 2013 and started my job as a Japan specialist Travel Consultant, which I adore. It’s hard work, but it’s without a doubt the most fulfilling and rewarding job I’ve ever had. It does take up a lot of time though, and after a few months of working my arse off in 2015 I realised all I was doing was working. I’d try to get out on the weekends and take some pictures for Picturing England, and of course I found time for Zumba once a week, but it wasn’t enough.

Some girls at work were talking about a salsa class they went to one night a week, and that really appealed to me. I used to dance a little bit, back when I did musicals as a kid, and I’ve always liked music-related exercise a lot more than anything else, so it seemed like the perfect thing to try. I knew my Zumba teacher did salsa, and I loved the Latin-flavoured songs in our Zumba classes. In fact, a salsa version of ‘Ain’t Nobody’ was one of my favourites (the version below is different to the Zumba Fitness one, but equally good!).

I went along to my first salsa class on 2nd June with one of my colleagues, and I have to admit I was nervous. I wasn’t really sure which of these it would be like:

Salsa Dancer

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It was like the ‘what I really do’ picture, but in my mind it was definitely more like the ‘what I think I do’ picture and it felt fantastic! The most terrifying part for me was the social interaction. I don’t really like people all that much, and I don’t have that many occasions where I have to interact face-to-face with people in my daily life, let alone touch them (I know, it sounds weird, but I live alone, I’m an only child, and I just prefer my own company). All of a sudden I found myself talking to a guy I’d never met before, then holding hands with him, and then in close hold! I do have issues with this kind of contact, but doing salsa is definitely helping me get over this! It helps that it’s just dancing. The way the class works is really good – you move around all the time so you don’t have to bring a partner, and you don’t get stuck with one guy for the whole night. It feels a bit like speed dating at times, but it’s always just dancing. It’s a nice way to meet lots of new people, and I’ve already made some good friends.

I loved that first class. The music ran through me, and by the time I got home my feet were still tapping (1, 2, 3… 5, 6, 7…). Before long I began sharing all the new music I was discovering on my Facebook page, and I make no apologies for the amount of songs I have shared over the last six months! Here’s one of my favourites:

And here’s another one:

I go to salsa every Tuesday night now, sometimes on Wednesdays and Fridays too. Three times a month on Fridays my salsa club (Salsa Souls) has parties, which start with lessons and then go into free social dancing until the early hours. It took a few months before I had the courage to go to a party, and I had to bring a friend along with me. I wasn’t sure how different the parties would be to the classes, and I had visions of it being like this:

Dirty Dancing - the best dance movie ever!

Dirty Dancing – the best dance movie ever!

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I thought maybe I would just stay for a little while after the lessons finished, but I think it was at least 1am when we stumbled out of the club with painful feet but happy hearts. The social dancing was SO much fun, and dancing with more experienced guys made me really feel like I could dance!

Salsa is like a good addiction. I spend all day looking forward to class, then afterwards it’s all I can think about. The music gets inside me, and I just want to dance. I think salsa is good for me on so many levels. Of course, it’s exercise. I don’t know how the pros do it on TV, but I sweat when I dance. And I don’t care, because most other people are sweating too. Also, it gets me out of the office. I have a tendency to stay at work and do overtime, but nothing would make me miss salsa. Salsa makes me happy. It makes me smile, laugh and sing – all good things filling me with happiness.

"It's salsa time!" - from Cuban Fury, the second best dance movie ever (after Dirty Dancing of course)

“It’s salsa time!” – from Cuban Fury, the second best dance movie ever (after Dirty Dancing of course)

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As well as all of the above, salsa teaches me. I’m learning a new skill (hell it’s not just salsa, I’ve tried a bit of bachata, cha-cha-cha and merengue too), but I’m also learning something else. I’m learning how to follow, and that’s not something I’m naturally good at. I’m usually the one in charge, making the decisions and calling the shots but for once, when I’m on the dance floor, I just have to follow. It’s hard, especially when the guy is learning to lead, but when you get a strong lead it’s actually remarkably easy to just follow, and I like it.

Most importantly, I’ve learnt that you’re never too old (busy, fat, unfit, or anything else) to try something new, and if there’s something you want to try you should just go for it. It might change your life.

Salsa party - it's not a flattering photo, but look how happy I am!

Salsa party – it’s not a flattering photo, but look how happy I am!

So this has been the year I danced, and I danced like nobody was watching. And I will continue in 2016 – starting with the first ever Bristol Salsa Congress which is on from 9th – 10th January. A whole weekend of dancing – I can’t wait! ❤

You've gotta dance like there's nobody watching...

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Music in Pictures Contest: Better Days

This week’s Music in Pictures Contest is on the theme of one of my favourite songs: Better Days by Eddie Vedder. Whenever I think of the song Better Days, I think of this:

View from Enoshima Observation Lighthouse

View from Enoshima Observation Lighthouse looking out towards Kamakura (Japan)

I first heard Better Days in the film Eat, Pray, Love, and so I will always associate the song with that movie. In the movie, and the book it’s based on, the main female character decides she likes the Italian word “attraversiamo”, meaning “let’s cross over”. That phrase could also be applied to this picture of a bridge connecting mainland Honshu and Kamakura to Enoshima, in Japan.

Here’s to Better Days

I feel part of the universe open up to meet me
My emotion so submerged, broken down to kneel in
Once listening, the voices they came
Had to somehow greet myself, read myself
Heard vibrations within my cells, in my cells
Singing, “Ah-la-ah-ah, ah-la-ah-ah”

My love is safe for the universe
See me now, I’m bursting
On one planet, so many turns
Different worlds
Singing, “Ah-la-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah-ah, ah”

Fill my heart with discipline
Put there for the teaching
In my head see clouds of stairs
Help me as I’m reaching
The future’s paved with better days

Not running from something
I’m running towards the day
Wide awake

A whisper once quiet
Now rising to a scream
Right in me

I’m falling, free falling
Words calling me
Up off my knees

I’m soaring and, darling,
You’ll be the one that I can need
Still be free

Our future’s paved with better days


Sex & the City? Do it yourself!

When I went to New York in December, one of the things I really wanted to do was see some of the famous places from the Sex & the City TV series and films (1, 2).

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I looked into the options and soon discovered that the organised tours you could pay for were pretty expensive (around $50 per person). These tours also included a number of places that didn’t really interest me. (Rabbit hunting in the Pleasure Chest with my mum?  I don’t think so!) When I thought about touring around New York City in a bus full of (most likely) women, trying to cram in all of the “memorable” places from Sex & the City, my skin began to crawl. The only option seemed to be to design my own tour, with just the places that I wanted to see!

The two sites that I considered unmissable were Carrie’s house (66 Perry Street) and the Magnolia Bakery (401 Bleeker Street). These are really close to each other, both in Greenwich Village.

Luckily, we were staying quite close to Greenwich Village, so we started the day by walking there. It was much more interesting to walk than it would have been to take the subway.

On the way, I saw this great shop:

Shoegasm

As far as I know, this is not in Sex & the City, but with a name like “Shoegasm” it really should be!

We soon reached Bleeker Street.

Bleeker St

I hadn’t planned to go to any of the fancy shops that Carrie likes to shop in (what’s the point if you can’t afford to buy anything?) but I passed a Jimmy Choo shop and did stop to have a peek through the window.

Jimmy Choo

We got to the Magnolia Bakery nice and early, and I got a birthday cupcake.

The Magnolia Bakery

The Magnolia Bakery - birthday cupcake

One disappointment was that the bench where Carrie and Miranda sit in the TV show wasn’t actually there. I wonder if it was just for the show, or if they had it removed because too many people sat there?!

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Just around the corner, was Perry Street.

Bleeker St & Perry St

Carrie’s house is obviously quite a big tourist attraction, but it is actually a privately owned house. The poor people who live there must get so annoyed with all the tourists coming by to take a photo. They’ve actually put a chain up now, and a sign asking you not to sit on the step, which is fair enough I think.

66 Perry St - Carrie's House

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After a wander around Greenwich Village, we walked to Soho to find Onieal’s Restaurant and Bar (174 Grand Street), which is known as “Scout” in Sex & the City. Scout is the bar which Aidan and Steve opened together.

ONieal's

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It was a nice bar, and very quiet when we arrived.

ONieal's

We decided to have a bit of lunch and, of course, a Cosmo.

Cosmo in ONieal's

Our timing was so good. Just as we were finishing our drinks, a tour group flooded in. I was so glad we could leave and not be a part of it!

ONieal's

Of course, there are many other locations around New York which are used in Sex & the City, but all of the above was enough for me!  As a bonus, we also stopped by the HBO shop (1100 Avenue of the Americas), where I picked up this great book, Sex and the City: Kiss and Tell:

The book includes a Sex & the City map and list of places to visit. I was quite happy to see that there were no additional places I wanted to see. If you’re into brand shopping or bar-hopping there are a lot of other places which I haven’t mentioned. You might want to check out this list for more information. You might also want to read this great article about why organised Sex & the City bus tours suck.

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I’m a big fan of seeing places that are used in movies and TV shows, but I’d highly recommend organising your own trips rather than taking a tour. There’s so much information on the Internet, that it’s easy to plan. And now, with this post, you know how to see the highlights from Sex & the City all by yourself. 😉


The locks of love…

On my recent visit to New York I was very keen to visit Brooklyn Bridge, mainly because I had seen it featured in Sex and the City, and wanted to see the view of Manhattan from Brooklyn. One particular scene from Sex and the City had stuck in my mind, and that was the one in the first movie, where Steve and Miranda meet on Brooklyn Bridge to show that they are willing to forget the past and continue with their marriage.

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But I hadn’t realised that Brooklyn Bridge was such a popular place for romance. Apparently Brooklyn Bridge has become the place for couples to declare their eternal love to each other by attaching a padlock to the bridge.

Locks on the Brooklyn Bridge

Scores of locks have been lovingly left on the bridge, some with messages, names or dates written on them, others plain. Despite the fact that it is actually illegal to attach anything to the bridge, there are these handy little loops all over the place, which people have cleverly made use of.

Locks on the Brooklyn Bridge

The tradition dates back to a book by Italian novelist Federico Moccia, which became popular when it was turned into a film, “Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo” (“Three Steps Over Heaven“), in 2004. Following the popularity of the movie, couples began declaring their love on the Ponte Milvio in Italy. Sometime later, perhaps around 2007, the tradition made its way over the Atlantic to the US, and people began to attach their love locks to the Brooklyn Bridge.

As I said, it is illegal to leave these locks on the bridge, but no one seems to be doing anything about removing them. And, really, what harm are they doing?

Locks on the Brooklyn Bridge

I wonder now if that scene in Sex and the City was inspired by this tradition of declaring one’s love on Brooklyn Bridge, although Miranda and Steve don’t actually leave a lock.

Locks on the Brooklyn Bridge

What do you think? Is leaving a lock on a bridge a good way for a couple to declare their eternal love? Would you do it?