Why I dance… 

Why do I dance? It’s simple really. Dancing makes me happy. I dance because I love the music. I dance because moving my body and learning new things excites me. I dance because I can. 

I love my dancing friends and family. The dance community is a truly special place and I can’t imagine life without it now.

Tonight was the first night back this year at my regular class, where it all started, Salsa Souls. Although I now dance various styles in different places, and I enjoy travelling to congresses and events elsewhere, Salsa Souls will always my dance home – where my heart is. I owe so much to the teachers there and the amazing friends I’ve met there.

This year, as I approach three years on the dance floor, I feel like I’m ready to dial it up a notch. I want to get good. So, I’ll work on my shines and footwork, I’ll try not to anticipate the lead, and yes teacher, I will learn to spot when I turn!! 

Why do I dance? Why on earth wouldn’t I? 


Foundations

Nutrition is the foundation of any healthy eating plan, or so I’m told, but it’s something I’ve struggled with a bit over the last year. A year ago I got a personal trainer at the gym and it’s made a massive difference to my health, strength and wellness, and we talk about food a lot. He’s not one of these PTs who dictates a certain diet plan or tries to get you replacing meals with shakes or anything like that – we just talk about what I eat and why I eat it.

I have issues with food, and could definitely be called an ’emotional eater’. If I have a bad, busy or stressy day, I eat. If I’m tired, I eat. If I;m sad, I eat. And when I eat, I eat all the wrong things. Chocolate being the main vice.

Over the last year I’ve tried to get into food prepping; planning my meals ahead, making a schedule for the week, and cooking healthy meals to take to work for lunches. I’ve done OK… I mean, I’ve definitely made an effort, but there have still been a number of days where I’ve given up on my healthy thoughts and gone to the local food market for a less than healthy (and very expensive) take-away lunch. In the worst cases, I’ve bought a ready-meal.

Planning and prepping food takes time, time which I don’t usually have, and I find it quite stressful. It’s boring to eat the same thing every day (I LOVE food) and expensive (and sometimes wasteful) to keep lots of varied ingredients in my fridge.

That’s why, when I popped into my favourite new healthy cafe (run by a friend’s PT) just before Christmas, the sign for a ‘Meal Prep Club’ caught my eye. I almost wrote it off as ‘bound to be too expensive’, but luckily I didn’t act too quickly and stopped to find out more.

Foundations Cafe is a great, healthy cafe on Baldwin Street in Bristol, which happens to be close to my office. They serve delicious salads, baked sweet potatoes, sandwiches, protein shakes and all sorts of things, and it’s become of of my favourite places to eat out in Bristol. The Meal Prep Club they are offering is simple, and surprisingly not at all expensive. In fact, my lunches are working out at just over £3 a pop!

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Smoked Salmon Box – Smoked Salmon flakes, brown rice, goats cheese Waldorf salad & fattoush salad on a bed of spinach & lettuce

This week I have have my first few lunches from Foundations Cafe, and I can honestly say each one has been delicious and, most importantly, stress free! I simply order on a Sunday for the week ahead, and collect my lunch each day. One of the things I have really enjoyed so far is the surprise each day, because by Tuesday I have completely forgotten what I ordered!

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Winter Superfood Salad – Lentil & chickpea salad, lemon & roasted veg couscous & beetroot & goats cheese salad on a bed of lettuce & spinach

My lunches have contained things I would never think about putting in my salad, such as walnuts and apricots, and things I would never include as I just wouldn’t keep them in, like feta.

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Sweet Jacket Potato with lentils & chickpeas, spiced carrot, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella & cashew pesto

Joining up to Foundations Cafe’s Meal Prep Club is one of the best decisions I’ve made this year so far! I feel like in doing this I’ve set myself up to a really good start and with a really strong foundation to have a healthy 2018. I love food, and I don’t want to go on some crazy diet or deny myself of things all year just to lose weight. I just want to eat healthily and happily.

If you’re in Bristol and want to find out more, check out the Foundations Cafe website: https://www.foundationscafe.com/meal-prep-club.

 

 


A reason to leave the office…

I’m lucky enough to be able to say I love what I do for a living (selling holidays to Japan) but a couple of years ago I realised there simply had to be more to life than your day job. I used to spend hours at work, in front of a computer, getting less and less productive as the night went on, and I realised I was in danger of losing my passion for my career.

I was saved by salsa. After trying a class one evening I found myself hooked, and soon started finding every chance I could to dance in order to have a reason to leave my desk at the end of the day. Getting out, meeting people, learning something new and moving my body gave me a new reason to be alive, and before long I was happier and healthier than I had ever been.

Learning salsa led me to also learn other Latin and African dances, and now I dance salsa, bachata, cha cha cha, kizomba, semba, merengue and I’ll have a go at anything else you throw at me.

I’m back at work this week after a lovely Christmas holiday and started the week with no dancing in my diary. Classes all seem to be starting again next week, so I resigned myself to probably having a week of working hard and late, and not having the usual release that dance gives me. Without a reason to leave the office, would I just end up working late? Probably.

And then I was saved. Some of my wonderful dance teachers decided to put on an impromptu kizomba social dance tonight, lots of my friends were going, and before I knew it I had a reason to leave my desk at six on the dot, and something to look forward to all night.

Tomorrow I’m booked in for a Zumba class so I can shake my funky stuff a little more, and I’ve found some salsa for Friday now too. 

Dance not only gives me a reason to leave the office, it makes me feel great, and it’s one of my reasons to live now. 


On this fine day…

So after running my first Park Run this morning, my beautiful day of ikigai continued. I decided to fill this precious first day of the year with things that would make me happy and feel good.

I’d heard about a film called Walk With Me, a journey into mindfulness about Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, which immediately made me think of one of my friends who has been studying mindfulness, so I met her and we went to see the movie. It was really interesting, and by the end we agreed we felt like we’d been in meditation for a couple of hours (and I don’t even meditate). 

My friend suggested we follow the movie with a yoga session, so off we went to see my favourite yoga teacher who happened to be running a class this evening. It was a lovely session, longer than my usual class which is crammed into a lunch break, and it was just what my body (and mind) needed. I find the Hatha yoga that I practice is very flexible and easy to adapt to how you are feeling on any particular day, and although I’ve only been practicing for about a year, I can’t imagine life without yoga now. 

My teacher often instructs us in a move and says “see how your body feels on this fine day” and that’s a phrase I tend to leave the room with. Each day is different, but on this fine day I have to say I’m feeling pretty good! 


Goals (not resolutions)

We all know that most people break their New Year’s resolutions within days of making them, so what’s the point? I used to make New Year’s resolutions every year, and then I would just feel miserable when I made the same ones all over again a year later. I felt like I hadn’t achieved anything at all, but really the resolutions were just to big. It’s like making a to-do list of all the things you ever need to do (ever!), rather than just a list of the things you need to do today, which is much more manageable.

I’m not really one for jargon, but I do like the idea of SMART goals. SMART goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. So, here are my SMART goals for 2018, in no particular order:

  • Complete at least one Park Run (✓ DONE!)
  • Reach my goal weight of 10 and a half stone
  • Complete my Veraflow Dance Fitness Instructor Training Course
  • Do a headstand in yoga

I have lots of other small themes and tasks for the year, but these four things listed above are my main goals. And, like all good lists, at the time of writing this post I have already been able to tick one thing off!

Here’s to a year of achieving wonderful things!

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Hello 2018, you’re looking mighty fine!

Welcome to the cliche – new year, new blog, new me. But I don’t care. This blog is something I’ve been thinking about doing for months, and now seemed like a pretty good time to get on and start it.

So what’s going on here then? Those of you who know me will know I’ve been blogging a long time – over 10 years in fact, in one way or another. But over the last couple of years I’ve been going through something of a transformation, and that’s changed the amount of time I have to write. I no longer spend my weekends sat around at home in front of the computer – instead I’m usually out and about, and quite often dancing. Actually, over the last year I’ve hardly blogged at all. I often feel guilty about not blogging, but then I remind myself that I don’t have to, and that (most importantly) there’s no point in writing if you don’t have anything worth writing about.

But you see, writing is one of the things that I’m most passionate about. You could say it’s one of my reasons for living. When I ran into the concept of ‘ikigai’ recently (a Japanese word which basically means ‘reason to live’), it got me thinking about all of my reasons for living, and I wanted a space in which I could explore all of the things I’m currently passionate about.

There’s work of course, and I am lucky enough to do a job which I genuinely love and feel happy and proud to do, but I do think a reason for living can be a lot more than one’s career. For me, my ikigai is everything else. It’s all the things that get me out of bed on a day when I don’t have to get up and go to work. For example, this morning, 1st January 2018, I rolled out of bed at 7am so I could go and join my first ever Park Run, a timed 5k run. Why? Because I’m committed to challenging and bettering myself, and because I’m a little bit crazy.

Often, when I’m tired and I’ve had a busy day or week, I feel like I could just curl in a ball and hibernate for a while, but usually on those occasions I find a bit of oomph and I take myself out dancing, because dancing cures everything. (I’ll talk more about dancing in coming posts, I’m sure!) Dancing is definitely my ikigai.

So, ikigai is the name of the game, and this year, this beautiful new year of 2018, is when I’m going to let the words tumble out of my fingers and see what happens. Thank you for joining me – I promise it won’t be boring.

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Travels on the Dance Floor by Grevel Lindop

Travels on the Dance Floor

Salsa has somewhat taken over my life this last year, and one night recently I found myself searching Amazon for something to read that would fuel my new-found passion. It was then that I stumbled upon Travels on the Dance Floor by Grevel Lindop. I read the description on Amazon and within minutes I had ordered the book.

When poet and biographer Grevel Lindop takes up salsa dancing in rainy Manchester, all he has are size 12 feet and excruciating adolescent memories of ballroom dancing lessons. But salsa has a way of getting into your blood. Intense and intimate, sexy and addictive, the adrenalin-pumping Afro-Latin-American dance style soon becomes an obsession. Inspired to learn more, Lindop decides on a solo adventure to find the geographical and cultural roots of salsa. From the streets, bars and dancehalls of Cuba, Venezuela and Colombia to those of Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Miami – land of Cuban exiles – he stumbles across a colourful cast of characters and a raft of new tricks. His quest also gives rise to basic confrontations with himself: can a 6’4″ white, English poet really dance? And what happens when he does? “Travels on the Dance Floor” is Lindop’s vibrant and evocative account of his odyssey, written with wry humour and a poet’s eye for colour, detail and atmosphere. Funny, passionate and inspiring by turns, it is a book that will be loved by dance addicts and armchair travellers alike.

What makes Travels on the Dance Floor such a readable and fantastic book is that it is written by someone who can actually write. I had not heard of Lindop before, but clearly he is a man who has a way with words and who knows how to create a mood or a scene using the simple power of language. From chapter one, ‘Cuba Libre’, I found myself instantly transported to this Latin world which Lindop had explored and discovered. “The buildings are a fantastic vision of every possible architectural style, all of it cracked and crumbling. Curling iron balconies are adored with birdcages, washing, bicycles, old TV ariels. The narrow pavements are plentifully daubed with the leavings of the packs of friendly stray dogs I’ve encountered every few blocks on my way into town. Elaborate classical facades, moulded with flaking stucco nymphs holding swags of fruit and foliage, adjoin concrete 1940s shop-fronts which have lost their plate-glass windows and had them replaced with sheets of plywood. Mysterious hammerings come from cavernous ground-floor spaces behind metal grilles.” If this was Cuba, I wanted to jump on the next plane and discover it for myself!

Travels on the Dance Floor is also an excellent book because it is real. Lindop is an everyman, and his adventures show both his successes and his failures. He dances in every city he visits, but not all dances are successful. He is learning as he travels, and both his joys and his frustrations are evident throughout the story. I wouldn’t want to read a story about a showman who travelled the world wowing everyone he met with his moves – a story about a man who is learning, and who is still learning at the end of the book, is much more appealing.

As well as being a must-read for anyone interested in salsa, this is also a rather brilliant travel book. Starting in Manchester, Lindop visits Havana (Cuba), Caracas (Venezuela), Bogota (Colombia), Cali (Colombia), Panama City (Panama), San Juan (Puerto Rico), the Dominican Republic and Miami. I find it hard to even pin most of these places on the map, despite loving the music I’ve discovered from these countries, and I found it fascinating to go on a virtual tour with a musical theme. Everywhere Lindop travelled he described the differences in the dance moves he found there, the music, the atmosphere, the clubs, the people, the streets… I felt like I too had been on a whirlwind tour by the time I put the book down.

And it was very reluctantly that I did put the book down after I had devoured it. I wanted more, but I don’t think another book like it exists. Do tell me if it does and I’ll order it immediately. I don’t believe salsa can be taught in a book, but part of learning to dance (for me, at least) is learning about the music and the culture of the countries from which salsa comes. That way, I hope I might learn more than just the steps and the moves, and one day I might find my dancing is filled with ‘el corazón’ as well.

 


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

(Image source)

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

(Image source)

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.


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

(Image source)

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!

(Image source)

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)

(Image source)

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...

(Image source)

 


Been Gromiting…

Those of you who know me in ‘real life’ or follow any of my blogs might know that I have something of an addictive personality. I also like a challenge. Whilst living in London I took part in the Big Egg Hunt 2012 and Big Egg Hunt 2013, and also BT ArtBox; three similar events where fibreglass objects are painted by artists to raise money for charities, and members of the public are encouraged to hunt around to find them all. In the 2012 Big Egg Hunt I found 209 of the 210 eggs (one was never actually on display) and in 2013 I found all 102 eggs. I didn’t do as well with the phone boxes, and only found 69 out of 83 or 84.

Naturally, I was very excited to hear that a similar event was being held in Bristol this year, just after I moved to this fabulous city. These events are a great way to explore a place, and I learnt a lot about London whilst taking part in the previous events, so I was very keen to have a go at the Gromit Unleashed trail.

Gromit Unleashed runs from 1st July – 8th September, and sees 80 Gromit (the dog from popular animation Wallace and Gromit) statues scattered around Bristol and the surrounding area (with one in London Paddington). When I saw the map I thought there would be no way I could collect them all, even though I did have plans to go to London, because some of the ones on the outskirts of Bristol were just too far away. Distant locations included Cheddar Gorge and Westonbirt Arboretum, which would be very difficult to get to using public transport alone. Luckily, my Mum is as crazy as I am and was up for a spot of Gromiting by car! (‘Gromiting’, by the way, is the new word that has been coined because of this event. I hope it makes it into the dictionary!)

I spotted my first Gromit before the trail had officially begun, when the statues were still being painted in May, and today (with a LOT of help from my mum and her car) I found my 80th Gromit!

I’ve seen so much of Bristol and the surrounding area now and have got a real feel for the place. It’s been lovely to drive through the countryside, walk around different parts of town, and discover new things. All throughout the trail I’ve been glued to the official Gromit Unleashed app, which I have to say is absolutely smashing! It’s very playfully made, with great Gromiting music and little snippets from Wallace whenever you ‘find’ a Gromit. The whole event has brought out the child in me, and it’s been crackin’ fun, Gromit!

Of course, there’s a serious side to this, and one mustn’t forget that this wonderful event is all in aid of Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Appeal, the Bristol Children’s Hospital Charity. The statues will be auctioned off in October to raise money for the charity.

If all of this sounds like jolly good fun to you, there’s still two weeks left to see the Gromits (until 8th September). Then, from 18th – 22nd September all 80 Gromits will form a public exhibition titled ‘The Greatest Dog Show on Earth’ at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) in Clifton, Bristol. For more information, visit: www.gromitunleashed.org.uk.

Here are the 80 Gromits, and for more pictures please visit my Flickr set.