gastropod: eating and moving

If you’ve tuned in for a nice chat about DJing or jazz or music, you’re going to be very disappointed. This is a long story about how I think about ‘diet’ and ‘exercise’. I’m going to say personal things and talk politics. Sometimes I will lecture. Sometimes I will rant. Mostly I will ramble. As I write this, I keep thinking about Julie and Julia, the relationship between blogging, women and food, and about the regulation and management of food. Because Julie and Julia is about regulating and ordering food and bodies. And the more I read about Julie Powell, the author of the book the film was based on, the more I see the same old connections between food, sex and women’s talking out of turn about personal stuff are still important (incidentally, if anyone has a link to that online article Powell wrote in response to critical reviews of her book Cleaving, could they please let me know? Ta.)
So if you are, then, looking for a nice bit of historical talk about Ellington or carefully objective overview of the latest Mosaic releases, you will be disappointed. Best move on to SwingDJs, where there’s not much talk about bodies, and precious few women doing the talking.
But if you are interested in a bit of a long chat about food and eating and mouths and bodies and so on (no, this isn’t another post about True Blood), taking up your eating irons and dig in.
This post starts with a discussion about the way I’ve engaged with a specific ‘diet’. The ‘CSIRO diet’ (the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet) is an interesting example of a dieting ‘product’ substantiated (or lent the appearance of credibility and authority) by science. More importantly, by one of the highest profile and most credible scientific bodies in Australia – the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.
We originally started on the diet because we wanted to ‘eat better’. We knew people who’d used it and had ‘good results’ (ie lost weight, felt better, etc). I had begun researching diet and nutrition but simply didn’t know where to look for ‘reliable’ information. I admit: I simply bought the idea the CSIRO diet sold me. That the CSIRO was a ‘reliable’ source of ‘scientific’ information about nutrition and exercise. I liked that diet’s emphasis on eating well – eating a lot of food, with an emphasis on fruit and vegetables. I also liked its emphasis on exercise, particularly as my wider research into exercise and health suggested that exercise and being fit are far more important for ‘health’ than weight loss or dieting. The CSIRO diet also suited my own ideas about exercise as a site for self empowerment.
After the talk about the CSIRO diet, I talk about my ideas about gender and diet, and outline some of my thinking about the relationship between feminism and physical fitness. Somewhere in there I wanted to talk about being a foody, but I think the point got lost a bit.
Some of my points were originally posted on a comment on the very excellent Progressive Dinner Party blog. This blog is very nice: it talks about food, but with an eye to issues of social and environmental sustainability, and engagement with class and the importance of geography and notion of ‘local’ (isn’t that a very fine and thought-provoking set of terms?). The post is, in its entirety:

I am prepared to admit this is not appropriate talk for a food blog, because, like most contributors and commenters here, I believe Prog Dinner Party is about celebrating food, not restricting it.
However, in recent weeks a friend and I have put ourselves on diets, as we prepare for a wedding and try to fit into the frocks we’ve chosen (the bride, btw, is a tiny elegant little thing who has to work to keep weight on).
My weight loss method is loosely based around the CSIRO diet, which is a great sort of boot camp on how to cook with less fat, even if I can’t afford to buy all that meat and I don’t eat pork. My version is to follow the formula of two or three small serves of carbs a day, loads of veges and salad and some fruit and low fat dairy and oodles of lean red meat, chicken and fish (up to 350 grammes a day!). Of course I also restrict fats (not much of a problem as I’m not really into cheese or chocolate) and I cut down on carbs and (sob) alcohol. Let you know how it works in a few weeks.
But, in the mean time, I thought it might be interesting to ask PDP readers what they give up when they are faced with the choice of either losing weight or buying a whole new wardrobe. Conversely, if you have the opposite problem, of unwanted skinniness, you might want to reveal what you eat to gain weight. Folks, it’s time to share …

This is just the most fascinating place to begin a discussion of ‘dieting’. My interest was caught by:
– the implied distinction between ‘dieting’ (to lose weight) and ‘diet’ (in the nutritional sense)
– the implications of ‘guilt’ in a discussion of food – feeling guilty for talking about dieting or moderating or managing food on a ‘foody’ blog; feeling guilty for talking about bodies and the way we might feel about our bodies on a blog devoted to food; and so on
– the gender at work; the way this was a discussion opened by a woman author on a blog with male and female contributors
– the invitation to discuss food not just in terms of physical size – too much or too little; fat or skinny
– the ‘invitation to share’ at the end
I think that this post encapsulates all my favourite things about Progressive Dinner Party: it is written by a group of authors who (for the most part) also keep their own blogs. They are a group who’ve ‘known’ each other – either online or in the flesh or both – for years. A culture of discussion, largely managed and peopled by women, but not exclusively, is encouraged, and there is the feeling that all ideas are worth exploring, so long as they’re politely introduced. The comments are friendly and encouraging, even on a topic as challenging as ‘dieting’.
At any rate, my comment in this post isn’t really all that great. But it was a sort of ‘ok, I’m going to finally jump in here’ comment on issues I’d been thinking about for a while. I’m still thinking about all these things. Which is why I think I want to talk about them more here. Because this is a BLOG. It’s meant to be indulgent, it’s ok to ramble, and over here I’m not cluttering up other people’s comments. I also figure it’s time I got the fuck out of twitter and started WRIGHTING WHOLE PARAGRAPHS AGAIN. Finally.
I’m not sure whether that paneer dish in my last post actually conforms to our CSIRO low-carb lifestyle, but then very little does. We don’t particularly like the recipes in the CSIRO recipe books. They’re very Women’s Weekly, don’t pay attention to seasonal changes and availabilities of produce, aren’t climate-relative (ie the emphasis on heavy meat dishes doesn’t really gel with our subtropical life style) and they’re generally very Anglo-type meals. Or Anglicised versions of cuisines from other cultures.
But we do like the way eating a low-carb diet makes us feel. It’s nice to go to bed not feeling over-stuffed. We like the way this approach to food, with its serious emphasis on quantities of specific food groups, forces us to get away from the telly, eat at the dining table, eat less takeaway and really concentrate on our meals.
So we follow the CSIRO ‘rules’: don’t eat carbs after lunch, don’t eat a whole lot of carbs, eat wholemeal or multigrain/unprocessed carbs, eat a truck load of vegetables every day (salads/vegies twice a day), eat 2-3 serves (or thereabouts) of dairy per day, don’t eat processed foods because they have too much salt and sugar (this wasn’t a change to our usual lifestyle, but it reinforced the eat-less-takeaway element), eat a couple of serves of fruit per day. The one CSIRO rule (the biggest one, actually) which we don’t really follow, is to eat at least 300g of protein per day.
The CSIRO rules emphasise red meat, and farmed red meat in particular. This means that game meats are neglected, which is a big shame when you’re living in Australia, a country with a struggling kangaroo industry. I remember reading about the Eastern European refusal to take kangaroo any more (as part of some sort of reciprocal trade/carbon trading/whatevs shitstorm) and thought ‘oh shit, the kangaroo industry is going to struggle.’ Australians don’t eat as much kangaroo as they should. It’s a very, very low fat meat, and kangaroos are environmentally sustainable, unlike cows or sheep with their land-destroying hooves and grazing habits. You can buy roo in the local supermarkets, but I haven’t found it in my local Chinese butcher. Though there is quite a bit of crocodile to buy in Ashfield…
So we adjust the protein part of the CSIRO lifestyle: less red meat. We just don’t like it much. Less cow for us. We prefer chicken and seafood, and we like to eat meat-free dishes. So we eat a fair bit of white fish, salmon and prawns. My recent investigations into the Australian salmon industry has scared me, though, so we’re easing off on that one. Living in a Chinese area means that the local fish shop(s) are really really good. But most of the available fish is sold whole, and with the Chinese names. The shop keepers don’t speak English and I don’t speak any Chinese languages. So my cooking has been a matter of experimentation with the whole fish situation. I must also learn to fillet my own fish.
Vegetarian dishes tend to combine grains and pulses for effective protein sources: rice and lentils; peanut butter on toast; hommus on pide. Sure, you could eat a bunch of eggs or cheese for a sort of Skip vegetarian diet, but I’m really much more interested in more complicated approaches to vegetarian cooking. But then that means you’re upping your carb intake. And the CSIRO diet is all about reducing carbs and adding protein. Mostly because proteins are good appetite suppressors.
There are also questions to be asked about the CSIRO diet’s funding (which was in part from Australian primary producers – meat farmers to be specific) and how this affected their research and findings. [EDIT: I followed up this stuff on vegetarianism and am revising my original comments. I’ve posted them in a following post] [s]Their very brief section(s) on vegetarianism are really quite bullshitty. There’s a line something like ‘there’s no evidence that vegetariaism is bad for you…’ Which of course is misleading if not downright deceitful. A vegetarian diet is much better for you than a meat diet, so long as you’re eating well. No diet is good for you if it doesn’t have mostly fresh fruit and vegies, wholegrain foods, dairy products and then protein, and finally a small amount of certain types of fats. You can skip the dairy stuff (so long as you replace it), but you certainly don’t need to eat meat.[/s][/EDIT]
What all this means for us, of course, is that we quite like the CSIRO diet books as a general guide for eating ‘well’. It’s very easy to use, it’s really, really well written and laid out and it makes managing your diet and exercise simple. Which was really helpful for two people who lead quite active lifestyles, like to cook a lot and like to eat even more. It was simply useful to have a nice, simple set of guidelines. But while we found we were losing weight, toning up, saving money and generally feeling really GOOD on the CSIRO diet, we didn’t particularly enjoy the meals. And what is the point of eating if it’s not the best fucking thing on earth?
So we began adjusting recipes and then creating our own recipes. What we’ve found in tailoring food from Indian, Italian, Thai and other cuisines, is that we simply eat the carb meals during the day (good lunches!) and then eat at least 2 or 3 ‘dishes’ at each dinner. A salad or two plus a meat/protein dish. Three vegetable dishes. This can be a bit labour intensive, but then cooking is labour. To pretend that it isn’t is dishonest and a sop to a processed food industry. But it needn’t be shitty labour.
I love to cook, and I love exploring fresh produce. Moving to a predominantly Chinese area from a middle eastern/mediterranean community meant an exciting chance to change the way I shop and cook.
I’ve noticed, shopping in Ashfield, that vegetables are absolutely central to Asian cooking. Ashfield is ‘pan-Asian’ (to use a dodgy term) or ‘Asia-Pacific’: Indian families (predominantly Fijian-Indian families and Indian students), Chinese, Phillipino, Malaysian, Pacific Islander… So when I go to my local greengrocers (there are two very good ones in Ashfield, plus the supermarkets and a large number of small Chinese grocers) I see a lot of greens and a lot of people buying them. Choi. Spinach. Herbs. All of them seem absolutely essential to everyday cooking. And you buy them fresh – you don’t keep choi for a week in your fridge. You eat it that day. These products are correspondingly very cheap. 50c for a bunch of coriander. $1 for a massive bunch of spinach. The next most important vegetables are onions, and then aromatics like garlic and ginger and chilli. Fruit is up there with greens – water melon, oranges, limes, lemons, seasonal fruit. At the moment it’s pawpaw (GROSS), mangoes, stone fruit. There are cherries and lychees about, but they’re expensive.
When I go to my local greengrocers, these are the types of vegetables that are cheap and fresh. With, of course, a massive range of other ‘specialist’ ‘Asian’ vegies that I don’t even know the names of, let alone know how to cook (though I’m working on it). I hadn’t figured out what the Indian students and mums were buying so much milk for until I suddenly realised: paneer! Eggs are also pretty important, and you can buy them in all the greengrocers for very little.
I don’t eat cheese, bread or even smallgoods much any more, unless I make a special trip to Dulwich Hill and the delis. I eat a lot of seafood. But I don’t eat much organic meat. It’s simply not a Chinese butcher’s concern here. So this means we don’t eat pork here much (except for BBQ pork – the local BBQ joint makes FABULOUS BBQ pork and I can’t resist it). My favourite butcher does do free range chickens, but I have to buy them whole and then ask her to take off the heads and feet, which feels silly. But. I can buy most types of poultry: pigeons, ducks, squabs (what is that, anyway?) and so on. I can also buy all sorts of offal.
The mass of smaller Asian grocers also means that I can buy lots of great types of soy products, lots of spices and grains in bulk, and of course, rice. Rice. Rice. Rice. But I don’t buy it much any more.
This all makes for very exciting cooking for me. And it means that I’m having to get braver about asking my butcher and fishmonger for advice about buying and preparing their products. It also means that I have decided I need more than English if i’m going to be a badass cook.
Our interest in a vegetable-heavy diet has also meant that we’ve had to explore a whole range of salads (because it’s summer) and vegetable dishes. And Indian and Asian food has brought home the textured vegetable protein. It sounds like a lot of work to make two or three dishes for dinner, and I guess it is. But I’m not working at the moment, and to be honest, our palates are positively delighted by the way we’ve had to explore new vegetables. At first we simply made a lot of salads with grilled meats. But that’s boring. Now we eat: salads with grilled meats (especially important when your kitchen is as shitty as ours, and your BBQ so great); combinations of vegetable dishes (such as this paneer/salad combo); the odd carb-based meal (nachos one night, a potato curry another). Pumpkin has also assumed a greater significance in our lives.
Choosing vegetarian options also encourages us to be creative. If we’re avoiding carbs, we’re avoiding lentils, beans, pulses. But that’s crap – they’re awesomely nom. So we have to manage the food we eat throughout the day as well. Perhaps a salad with egg for lunch so we can eat carbs at night. The Squeeze cycles about 80km a week on a single geared bike in a hilly town, so he needs more carbs than I do. Not even a solid diet of Tranky Doo can account for a carb-heavy diet.
Again, all this sounds like work. But then, it is. Having a body is a big responsibility. It’s precision engineering. It takes a careful balance of nutrients to keep it in prime condition. But then, I quite like complex, creative processes. I like figuring out jazz routines from vintage clips. I like sewing and crocheting and making popups. And I like cooking.
Ultimately, a carefully balanced diet is its own reward. Yes, nanna, you’re right. It is. Eating a diet with less carbs has made me feel a lot better and healthier. I’m sure that if you were having digestive problems (irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, heart burn, etc), then this sort of diet management combined with exercise would be utterly wonderful. I was lucky enough to be pretty sound, digestion-wise, so I found this diet (which is pretty heavy on the fibre) was just a sort of turbo-boost, health wise. I find I have to eat constantly, though, to meet the minimum requirements. Snacking twice a day. Eating lunch and breakfast every day, and not just making do with a light salad at lunch time.
I think that this sort of regime has also addressed some of my less healthy eating behaviours. Hells, I know it has. Binge eating – eating lots of sweeties or high-fat foods – was one of my responses to high stress situations, and I hadn’t even realised. The CSIRO book suggests that if you really desperately have to have a sweety or a fatty food, then you should. But rather than eating a whole pack of biscuits or a whole cake, you should just eat 80g, or a small portion. It wasn’t until I had to actually monitor what I ate that I realised that if I was feeling a bit stressy or tired or upset, I’d head to the (truly awesome) patisserie, baclava bakery, gelateria. I tended to explain this sort of obsessive (and compulsive) stress management as ‘being a foodie.’ Eating good (amazing) food was a reward for my own gastropodery. Now I still love these things, I just don’t eat a million of them each week. And I’ve come to think about fruit and vegetables in new ways: they are their own source of awesome food-reward amazingness. To be honest, I have largely stopped thinking of food as a ‘reward’. I still obsess over it (which, of course, is what diets and nutrition and foodyness are all about, aren’t they?). But I’m aware of my special interest.
As I type this, I have the urge to excuse or explain away my relationship with food. Part of me thinks I should feel guilty about loving food, or about dealing with stress by eating or admiring or making or buying or writing about or thinking about or looking at food. Here are the two factors that I think contribute to this association of guilt with good and pleasure:
1. my family background
2. broader gendered notions of body
Both are bound up with guilt, pleasure, reward, punishment, forgiveness, indulgence, privacy, publicity, my feelings about my body, my feelings about myself, my ideas about other people’s feelings about my body/self/value… and so on. You’re probably all familiar with the discussions about bodies and gender. And I don’t particularly want to discuss my family on the intertubes. But I am very interested in the relationships between feminism, feminist discourse, ‘diet’ and ‘nutrition’, images of the body and self image, ‘fitness’, ‘health’, exercise, independence, power, autonomy, strength and FOOD.
One of my own justifications for not ‘dieting’ or otherwise moderating or regulating or simply paying attention to what I eat has always been that I am a feminist. I don’t subscribe to the idea that the only attractive/valuable/important/meaningful/good/positive/innocent/positive female body is a thin/skinny/dieted/controlled/exercised/observed/managed one.
I do believe that we are all truly unique incarnations of one particular species. Our lives – our lived experiences – our genetics, and so on all contribute to the shape and size and colour and scent of our bodies. Yoga taught me that the way we look – the shape of our bodies – is a product not only of genetics and diet, but much more importantly, of how we manage stress (where do we put it in our bodies?), how we think of our bodies (which parts do we attempt to conceal), the types of movements we do habitually (computing or running? walking or cycling? hunching or striding?), and our intimate, conscious awareness of how our bodies work.
In regards to the latter point, Yoga is, basically, about being in our bodies. This means that we must become aware of our bodies. Sounds like mysticism, until you approach it as a matter of biomechanics. We cannot correct posture or gait or stance until we understand and become consciously aware of how we use our muscle groups. And it takes practice to get good at understanding how our bodies work, or how we can make our bodies work. This means that we have to experiment with a range of movements and activities, every day, to really understand how we work. Sounds practical, really – how can we realise our potential if we aren’t aware of our abilities and limitations? But most of us simply don’t explore the full potential of our bodies.
From this perspective, each body is an absolute treasure trove of potential movements and muscular experimentations. Whether that body has four limbs or two, is old or young, has subcutaneous fat or not, is male or female, is pre or post menopausal… Yoga really brought home to me, simply with the rule that you always go to yoga – even if you’re ‘injured’ – that each body is really both interesting and really really powerful. I think that this is why I now don’t accept the idea of ‘dis’ability. It is more useful (and exciting) to think of each body – each person – as a unique collection and combination of forces and pieces and potentials.
This sounds terribly hippy dippy.
But in terms of gender, it’s incredibly exciting. Before yoga and experimenting with dance, my sense of self was determined by things like gender – my femaleness. My womanness. By ‘health’ – whether I was in pain, had allergies, was menstruating, had a cold, etcetera and so on. And by what I looked like. Now, I think of my body as this sort of amazing possibility. I don’t think about ‘fat’ as appearance. I think about ‘fat’ as a layer or part of myself that makes it difficult to achieve a particular range of movement or to hold a particular pose or to sustain an aerobic exercise. But it’s also something that makes me particularly bouyant in the pool, keeps me warm in cold weather, and makes it easier for me (ultimately) to gain muscle. It’s not a liability or a bad thing or something shameful. It’s just my body and me as I am at this moment. And doing regular exercise (walking, cycling, dancing – all things that I adore) has made it clear that carrying less fat is simply more convenient for certain activities. Less padding means a greater range of movement. Less weight means less stress on my (needy) foot and other joints. A system having to deal with increased fat or decreased aerobic fitness doesn’t deliver the endorphine rush I LOVE in quite the way I’d like.
I am not, however, ready to adopt a hardcore athletic lifestyle. I do like a long lie on the couch. So I find a point of compromise. How much exercise must I do, how much diet management must I do to attain and maintain the right equilibrium?
So my body has become more than just a set of signifiers pointing at ‘woman’ or ‘female’. This is not to suggest that I am not a woman or female in my mind or self. This is part of who I am. But not all. Most importantly, an interest in my body has led me to the point where I don’t think of my body solely in terms of its relationship to or comparison to other women’s bodies, or as a site for (masculine) sexual desire. Nor do I think of my body as a vessel for carrying my brain: it is me. My mood affects my muscles. My breathing affects my emotions. And so on.
Here, of course, the notion of ‘control’ or ‘regime’ gets problematic. Is an interest in exercise and diet simply another way of controlling the female body? If she’s not interested in ‘dieting’ to achieve the ‘preferred’ or fashionable shape (or, more importantly, to achieve a body shape which allows her to properly participate in systems of consumption: purchase, discard, purchase again; clothing, makeup, ‘beauty’ products, shoes, perfumes, cleansers, jewelry…) is she instead ‘exercising’ to achieve another bodily ideal? Does this process serve just as well to keep women from moving on to other (more important) work?
Here, I have to stop and think about the way I think about myself. Why am I so interested in exercise and nutrition? And, also, where should I place my diet and exercise on a hierarchy of ‘what’s important’?
Control is certainly an important factor. I control what I eat, I control my life, I take control. This is, of course, at the root of many discussions about eating disorders. Food and controlling it is a way for women to control their lives. To maintain ‘order’ in chaos. Mainstream media, social and institutional structures – all the stuff of everyday life – works to manage and homogenise women and women’s bodies. Capitalist societies organise us according to our ability to ‘buy’ to engage with and participate in a formalisd system of buying and selling. Patriarchy – in my culture – relies on my accepting a role as ‘consumer’, but far more importantly, as gendered consumer. I am to buy products which make me a particular type of woman. Or, rather, I am to carry an insistent anxiety that I am not quite right as a woman (too fat, too thin, too old…), and the only way I can become ‘right’ is to buy this dress, that makeup, those shoes, these diet meals… that exercise plan?
For me, taking control of my diet, of exercise, is about taking control. I don’t watch broadcast television or read magazines or listen to the radio. On the one hand this shuts me off from all sorts of interesting current affairs, but on the other, it sure does cut a whole lot of anxiety and anger out of my life. I’ve also noticed that it means I have no idea what is ‘beautiful’ or ‘fashionable’ in the wider world. No idea at all. My sense of self value or beauty is determined, for the most part, by the way my body works. I do take an interest in what I look like. I love to make clothes, to dress up, to experiment with colour and form and shape. But it’s not the sum total of my interest in my body. My interest has shifted from ‘what do other see when they look at my body’ to ‘what can my body do?’
Function is far more important to me these days. Dealing with pain in the past (an injured foot recently, chronic migraines years ago… and so on) means that I now aim for living ‘pain free’. Every day that I’m not in pain is, truly, a blessing. Every day that I can move freely and easily is a blessing. And it’s addictive. I like being able to dictate the terms of my health. Of being able to take control of my well being. And, quite simply, eating ‘well’ and exercising regularly is a very simple and effective way of maintaining my health.
Good health not only means that I am free from pain. I’m now aiming higher than that (and my attention is always caught by the way women experience pain and illness everyday – many women carry pain killers in their bags at all times. Surely this expectation of pain and acceptance of it as ‘everyday’ is something worth commenting on?) Now I want to use my body to achieve other things.
Cycling is synonymous with independence for me. It costs me nothing: it is financial independence. It lets me take myself from place to place: I do not rely on other people to get me where I want to go. It is safe: I can escape or avoid the ‘dangerous streets’. These are very, very important things to me, as a woman. It means that I can control when and where I go. Cycling, unlike walking, does not carry gendered connotations of danger the way walking does. Cycling at night is consistently represented as ‘dangerous’ for cyclists, but not like walking. Simply, the idea of speed, of being able to ‘escape’ is important for me – I am not ‘caught’ in a bus, on a road, by myself. Cyclists don’t, in an ideological sense, ‘look’ vulnerable the way pedestrians do. Further, repeated cycling changes the way my body looks and works. And the way I dress. Cycling regularly means that I don’t wear ‘feminine’ clothes to ride. My clothing for cycling simply doesn’t carry that same meaning or value that a dress or short skirt or low-necked blouse does. My clothing ‘says’ practical, independent, freedom of movement. It certainly feels that. And what your body ‘says’ on this level is a massive part of how women are perceived and constructed and regarded by themselves and others as ‘vulnerable’. Further, the very process of cycling – of regular exercise – makes my body stronger and more independent.
I think this is the part that I like most about exercise and diet management. It makes me feel powerful. It seems almost a silly thing to write or say. But as a feminist, as a woman, I am constantly negotiating discourse which seeks to remind and convince me that I am weak, vulnerable. That to be a woman is to be un-powerful. Whether its dominant ideological presentations of woman=object or feminist discourse reminding me of unequal pay rates, rape and sexual assault and beauty ‘myths’.
In my own life, I feel that activism is about action. We might begin with a process I think of as ‘complaint’, where we’ve realised we’re getting screwed, and – by the Goddess! – we’re angry about it! But while this is important, and it’s essential to talk about and theorise and highlight the shitful stuff that happens to us, to women and to all of us, I think that this cannot be the end point. I tend to get angry about something, then get tired of being angry. Because carrying around all that anger stops you actually getting on and doing stuff.
I get tired of being angry about bullshit gender dynamics in lindy hop culture. I get tired of being angry about the way women follows compete with each other for the ‘attention’ of male lead dance partners. I could just give up dancing. But I’m stubborn. I love dancing. So I think of ways to get active and change things for the better. Because, really, you never know til you try. And I’m always surprised by just how much you can achieve with sufficient bloody mindedness. So, in dance, that meant learning to lead. Getting interested in solo dance. Exploring other avenues to power within the broader dance community – DJing, managing events and so on.
I got tired of being angry about my feeling afraid to walk about at night, or to catch trains at night or to be out at night on my own. I got tired of being angry that I couldn’t walk without pain. I didn’t want to cave and use consumption as an escape – buy a car, buy petrol, buy buy buy. And I certainly didn’t want to accept the bullshit that I should be at home at night. So I started riding my bike. Physical strength, health and independence are, quite simply, empowering. And exciting. Simply thinking about your body as source of power or freedom or mobility or independence or strength, rather than thinking of your body as something to be looked at, to be held, or desired or protected is really exciting. It’s hardly a new idea. The difference between object and subject isn’t new at all. Nor is the association of these with gender.
I’m always surprised by women’s insistence that they don’t want to ride a bike or ‘get muscles’ or not wear make up or all these sorts of things. To me muscles aren’t an end in themselves, but signifying strength, independence, power – a body with function, whose form is intimately associated with action and power and independence. All very un-feminine, in the conventional sense.
I’m not suggesting that, as an alternative, the only bodies with value are strong, athletic bodies. There are circumstances which affect the ways we use our bodies. But, as yoga taught me, it’s not useful to just ‘accept’ your body as it is. It’s far more interesting to explore our bodies, to understand and become aware of them, no matter what the specifics of our parts and pieces. One of the most important parts of dealing with my foot injury last year was realising that just because I couldn’t walk or do the things that I used to love doing (and which defined me and my sense of self-value), didn’t mean that I was ‘totally crap’. I simply had to work with what I had. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t walk 800m to the train station. I couldn’t walk around the shopping centre. I couldn’t go down stairs without holding the hand rail and taking one step with both feet, slowly. This was profoundly distressing for someone who is so fiercely independent. I dealt, every day, routinely, with the impatience and intolerance of strangers. I was too slow on the stairs, getting on trains and buses. I couldn’t line up for very long at all. I couldn’t keep up with shop assistants taking me to another part of the shop. I had to ask for help carrying heavy things. It was utterly demoralising. Distressing. Upsetting. Infuriating. I became quite badly depressed. Badly, badly depressed.
Until, eventually, I decided that – seeing as how this condition was permanent – I could either accept it, lie down on the couch and never get up again, or I could do something. I have to wear special orthotic soles in my shoes. I still can’t stand up too much, walk too much or dance too much. But if I do regular exercises, I can strengthen my body to the point where I can do more. I count it a massive, triumphant victory that I’m not in pain every day. Every dance I have now is magic, a perfect, wonderful thing. But I am very much aware of the fact that I cannot simply assume that I will ‘improve’. I have to do a range of exercises three times a day. I have to moderate my dancing and exercise.
I think it’s the idea that I can do something that’s important. Becoming aware of my body and then adopting a fairly strict exercise regime has been essential to my improved sense of self worth. Frankly, if we treat our bodies badly, if we ignore them and just assume that they will be fine without our attention, we’re asking for trouble.
As a feminist, I can’t simply write off diet talk and exercise talk as ‘patriarchy bullshit’. I’ve decided that I am going to be the boss of the way I think about my body, and I’m going to think about these things in a healthy, empowering way. I consciously choose not to read magazines or watch telly or engage with mass media in an everyday broadcast model, for the most part because I am aware of the way these media present me – incessantly with the sort of bullshit ideas about identity and value I’m spent my research career identifying and critiquing. While I’ve also spent a great deal of time writing and thinking about the way that we can subvert or transgress dominant images or ideas about bodies and identity in the mainstream media, I simply don’t think I can be arsed. I choose not to submerse myself in this discourse. I’m opting out. Because every time I see another photo of a woman advertising the latest clothing or cleaning product ‘for women’, it sticks. Every time I hear another comment about women’s bodies on the radio, no matter how minor or even inconsequential, it sticks. And, to be honest, I’m a bit tired of getting angry or of constantly reading on the slant or from the margins or with a queer eye.
…I think I’ve run out of steam. It’s late and I will probably have trouble sleeping now because I’m all running around inside my head.
I think I’ll end, then, by repeating my points:
– exercise is good for you. It makes you feel good. It makes your body work well.
– food and eating it is good.
– talking about food and exercise is something we should do, as feminists.
– I am a feminist and I want to talk about food and exercise.
– the word ‘diet’ doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative one.
– food and exercise are utterly bound up with issues of gender, power, identity, class, sexuality… all the usual stuff. Probably because they are – as with all the important and interesting things – important and interesting.

more pakour

Watching this (occasionally annoying) video about pakour/freerunning, I was struck by the similarities between these jumps and lindy hop.

I’m most interested in the landings, and in the way momentum or velocity are managed. I don’t know a whole lot about the science of this stuff, so my comments are purely ill-informed conjecture.
When this guy lands, he tends to land with his feet shoulder width apart and his knees bent. This makes for stable landings – this distance between your feet is optimal for a nice, stable landing. The bent knees are also very stable – straight legs are unsteady and tend to lift your centre. When your centre is lower, you have more stability. But you don’t want to be too low – it’s harder to recover from a very low pose. The bent knees function a bit like springs or suspension on a car – they absorb the energy of your fall, but they also allow you to store the energy to use it again for another movement. Landing with straight legs and close together feet makes for a) jarring and b) instability.
These are all things that are really important in lindy hop. Because lindy (in the old school sense) is fast, and, essentially, like playing a basketball game within a two meter square space, you need to be able to move quickly, to make quick turns, to not lose your momentum. This makes bent knees and shoulder-width apart feet very useful. Old school lindy hoppers like Frankie Manning, who was known for his air steps, would also lean forward, bending at the hips and putting their hips back. This added ‘hinge’ gives greater stability and also adds another layer of ‘stored energy’. It also requires your activating the layers of muscles in your torso that keep you stable and also allow you to respond quickly with turns and twists.
Here, have a look a this iconic footage (Manning is in the overalls):

I’m interested in the way these practical mechanics have been translated into bodily aesthetics. The straight leg and pointed toe are classic markers of ballet and of feminine beauty – the longer-seeming leg, the tinier foot.
It’s also interesting to watch the first clip and see how this guy uses the energy from a drop or jump to move immediately into another jump (so it looks like he’s springing up), or how he translates that energy into a roll. How are his feet positioned then?
Of course, all this contrasts really nicely with yoga, where you move between poses very slowly – you don’t bleed off momentum with bounces or other movements. Your muscles have to be strong enough to move you through poses (and to hold you in them) without losing energy. And you hold poses for a longer time.
NB I think the reason I’m so aware of this stuff is that quite a few leads have a tendency to stop the follow during a faster dance. When you’re moving at speed, it’s less work to maintain the momentum than to stop and have to start again. This means that sequences of moves which use larger movements are easier on the follow than a combination of (for example) swing outs and (to be ridiculous) body rolls. It’s also a reason why it’s important to not stop your swingout half way through (on ‘4’ or so); you want to keep the movement happening.

yay yoga

Well, things are kind of boring over here in boring town. If only boring people are bored, I guess I must be pretty damn dull. I like it that the weather’s cooler, and it makes me want to get outside and ride my bike. But it’s also raining, and that’s not much fun in a hilly town when you ride a bike with skinny, slick tires. It’s weird to be wearing trousers again. It’s been months and months.
bksi.jpgOn Monday I went to yoga for the first time since I’ve been here. It was so nice to be yogaring again, I smiled involuntarily all through the class. That could have been the endorphines speaking. The studio is very close to our place – only 10 minutes door to door (including time spent wrestling with the garage door and my bike on our steep drive way). I do have to ride down a very steep hill, then up another very steep hill, but I’m hardcore now, so that’s ok. In fact, I can’t believe what a baby I was about hills in Melbourne – there’s no way I could ride _anywhere_ here if I couldn’t handle hills. But I can, now, because I am badASS.
So yoga rocked. It’s Iyengar, and it’s a baby class, but I need that babyness. I am so out of condition. My poor foot got a bit of a workout, though, which is ok. Lots of standing poses which I usually love, but which were a bit intense for my poor plantar fascia. They did give my ankle a good stretch and flex, though, which is really important. Now I understand why back bends (where you sit on your feet, knees bent, bum on your heels) hurt so much – my ankle doesn’t bend enough. So some of those sort of poses freakin’ hurt, but my ankle needs to be worked a bit so I can get greater movement and – consequently – ask less of my plantar fascia.
The studio was small, which is ok. The cost was only $15 per class, which is good. The class itself was nice, but we didn’t do any partner work (waaah!) and we moved through poses a bit quickly for my liking. I like taking a long time to get into a pose, holding the pose for ages, then getting out of it slowly. I like the slow, careful movement because it makes me really _think_ about the way I’m using my body. It’s also a lot harder and makes my muscles really work. It was strange having a female teacher. You know, men and women have different bodies? And their muscles are differently proportioned? That’s some wacky shit.
Basically, I feel freaking GOOD in my body today, even with the second-day-after soreness. It’s a good soreness.
At any rate, I’d like to go back tonight, but I should probably give my foot a bit more of a break between classes. Though I think it’d probably be ok. Heck, I could justify my way into going back. So long as it isn’t raining when I want to leave.
What do I like about Iyengar?
I like the precision and emphasis on alignment. I am a big old biomechanics nerd, particularly in regard to dancing, and I’m fascinated by the way Iyengar develops your awareness of your muscles and tendons and fascia and bones and bits. I like the way it micro-focusses on poses, and the way you learn to do them perfectly. Because I have a bunch of knee and hip problems usually, I like the way Iyengar’s emphasis on having everything properly aligned (foot under knee under hip under…) teaches my body to hold itself properly and get over bad habits.
I like the props. I like using all the blankets and bolsters and belts and things. Partly because I like making cubbies, but also because props actually make poses easier. A belt holds you in place so that you can get used to how a pose feels. But you can adjust the belt to a hold that’s comfortable, so it’s not freaky. Bolsters and blankets can help you with a pose that might otherwise be too strong – they give you an easier version of a pose.
I like being adjusted by the teacher. I like having that one-on-one attention because it helps me learn. It’s also nice to get that attention in class and to have someone put their hands on you. I like working in pairs for that same reason. I like the physical contact because it’s helpful to have someone actually put your body in the right position, and because it’s just nice to work skin-on-skin with someone like that. I like working in pairs because it helps me learn – you see how someone does the pose, then you work together to make the pose work properly. I also like assisting the person doing the pose and seeing from the outside how it’s working. I like having a partner when I’m in the pose because it makes it easier. It’s also nice to work with other people on this stuff – you can talk through a pose and experiment. It’s less scary as well, and it’s reassuring to have someone else to work with. And it reminds you that everyone has completely different issues, so it’s ridiculous to compare yourself to anyone else. And that reminds you that yoga is about developing your own awareness so that you can be on better terms with your own body.
I like the slowness and the emphasis on holding poses rather than rushing through them. I like the challenge of holding a pose for a long time – it’s like resistance training and lifting weights, but without props (ironically). It’s challenging. But it’s also really satisfying. I like it that my own body is enough to provide a really challenging work out. And that I can learn to use my body in a way that lets me lift my own body weight.
I like it that yoga thinks about muscles (and bones and so on) as a complex system of parts. Unlike doing weights at the gym, where you tend to think of muscles individually. When we lift our arms out to the side in yoga, we think not only of our arms, but of how our feet are placed on the ground, how our legs are positioned, how our pelvis is sitting, how the muscles in our sides, back, neck and so on are working. All this to hold our arms out straight to the side. And of course, because you’re holding all these muscles in place, you’re really working, so your heart pumps and you’re generally giving good ‘resistance training’ style effort. I really like the way yoga makes you use the right muscles for the right job. Just as with dancing, you use big muscles for big jobs and small muscles for small jobs. And you always start from the ground up. I think this is why my foot injury upsets me so much – it makes it so very clear that you can’t dance properly without proper weight commitment. Your feet are so very important.
I like it that Iyengar is good for injured people. Injuries at dancing mean sitting out for a few months. Injuries mean going to yoga to help heal. I like it that everyone can go to iyengar yoga and participate, no matter how old or infirm or injured they are. It can be as gentle or as strong as you need or can bare. I think this is the most important thing for me at the moment. I’ve been spending the last few months thinking of my body as fucked up and an impediment to my independence. But yoga reminds me that it’s not actually fucked up, that I can still get on and do things and be in it and enjoy it. I just have to respect its limitations. So with yoga I can still go and spend an hour sweating and working really hard, and not be told that I’m ‘broken’ by those same limitations. I think it’s this sense of confidence and respect for my body (rather than resentment) that is most important for me at the moment.
I like yoga very much.
It makes me feel so good. It stops me thinking for a couple of hours.
It’s gentle and non-competitive, which is nice after dancing.
It’s intellectually stimulating and I learn a lot. But it’s learning about myself.

look, no hands

I’m copying Alice’s work and having a bash at some photoshop tutorials. You MUST go and look at Alice’s work – it’s freakin’ sweet. Mine is a little dodgier:
Hare1.jpg
If you can’t see all the image, best to click through to the permalink.
It’s not really finished. Basically, it took me hours to get to the point where I had the figure on the textured background. I’m not all that happy with that part – there’s not enough texture on the figure (mostly because I gave up on the layering). The text is shitty, but that’s because I gave up before I got to the bit in the tutorial about adding layers of ‘paper’.
I’m really enjoying it, but I have to follow the instructions _exactly_ because I don’t know very much about photoshop at all. I’m just a baby with layers, buggered if I know anything about masks or any of the fancy shit. So, really, I don’t actually know anything, I’ve just been copying. But I’m going to have another go to see if I can actually _learn_ as I go.
I quite like the colours (this whole image is probably the result of too much Deadwood this week), but I _really_ like the colours on Alice’s latest effort.
My eyes are kind of square, too.
Ok, here are my sources (and most of them I just found via Alice or the original tutorial):
The basic picture of the woman is from facebook, and it’s a picture of Michelle from Sugar Blue Burlesque.
Then I added a hare’s head from stock.xchng.
The background paper was also from stock.xchng.
The sunray thing was from deviantart.com.
There’s a bit of nice wallpaper in there (as in the stuff you put on walls) fromlovelamp.
There’re some brushes (now, there’s something I’d never used before) from brusheezy.
I think the font is from dafont.
I’m going to have a bash at some more of these photoshop tutorials. I wish I was a bit more visually creative, or that I had something specific to design for. I just couldn’t think of anything to write on this one (it’s pretty dumb, I know).
I’m also a bit concerned about putting animal heads on women’s bodies. Especially on burlesque bodies. There’s something weird there. And I’m not entirely comfortable with burlesque as it is – my politics suggest that there’s really nothing all that ok about stripping and women dancing erotically for (predominantly) male audiences. I mean, just ’cause it’s old timey stripping, don’t mean it _isn’t_ stripping and _doesn’t_ carry all the accompanying problems that stripping carries generally.
… part of me is also thinking about the Dietrich film ‘Blonde Venus’ and all that feminist film stuff about female bodies as ‘pieces’ cut up by the male gaze. I also worry about animal headed women not being able to ‘return’ the male gaze.
But there you go. I dare say my using that picture of a woman I know without permission is also problematic.
I have a couple of ideas for animal headed men, but I think I’m kind of over them. We’ll see, though. I think I’d like to go for a more modern look as well – I’m a bit over that dirty look. But it is useful to know how to do it, now.
But what _I’d_ really like to know how to do, is add those ‘pieces of paper’ with the text on them. I also discovered that I’d forgotten how to do shaped text (as in following a free form line). Sigh.
…and, my foot is still bung. It’s about three weeks, now, and I’m only up to 10 minute walks. They make my foot hurt and hurt, though. But yesterday I rode my bike and it didn’t hurt my foot. Ace. I still have a bit of a cold from MLX, but I’m absolutely dying of cabin fever and lack of exercise. I MUST do some sort of exercise before I go nuts. I also plan to get into yoga again after christmas. My house-bound-ness has made me very dull, I’m afraid, so nothing more from me. There’s more Deadwood to watch. :)

wanted: nice iyengar yoga studio

I miss Frank.
:(
I have just started looking for another Iyengar studio.
The Yoga Nook in Dulwich Hill is very close (only a quick bike ride away), although I did find this disturbing photo on its site:
pose_3.jpg
The Squeeze doesn’t think I should go there, just in case he comes home one evening to find me stuck in this pose on the lounge room floor. I share his concerns.
The Leichardt Yoga Room got me all excited with its name (almost but not quite the Rathdown Yoga Room), but it featured this photo on its site:
pose2.jpg
I’m fairly sure this is the pose that I hate most. My nemesis pose. It is my Captain Hammer. I frickin’ hate backwards bending poses, and this is the worst. It hurts my back, it hurts my feet, it hurts my legs. I tend to get distressed doing this pose – heart rate elevated, panic! panic! – and need all the equipment in the room (every bolster, every wooden thing, every blanket) to attempt it. This usually means that I’m sitting upright with a bunch of blankets under my feet and a billion bolsters and other shit piled up behind me.
So I’m not sure I want to go there – I mean, if you love virasana that much, why don’t you freakin’ marry it? It is in Leichardt, though. Which is where the ‘french’ cafe is.
Really, I think I just want Frank to come to Sydney. Or I want another yoga studio specialising in Iyengar, long, complicated and incomprehensible explanations and Italian nonnas. In my experience, the best studios are also very not online.
…now I’ve thought about Frank, I’m suddenly overcome by a wave of homesickness. I miss the smell of the yoga mats. Wait, I know how I can cheer myself up: with home made yoga. Down dog!

round up

Enough of the random posts. Just join them all together and make one long stream of consciousness post.
Right now my stomach is feeling unsure. It began feeling unsure yesterday after I had chicken salad from the joint in Summer Hill. I wouldn’t have eaten there if it hadn’t been 4pm and I hadn’t forgotten to have lunch. I’d also walked to the hardware store (again – I freakin’ love that place) and then round the long way to the shops, mostly so I could look at the flour mill that’s up for redevelopment. I am fascinated by the fact that there’s a giant flour mill just down the street, and that it’s joined to another flour mill in Dulwich Hill by a special-duty train line. That one’s been made into flats, though. But I’m still really interested in it. It seems I’m not the only one into flour mills. There’s always someone leaning over the railing on the bridge over the railway, staring at the giant white flour mill (the one in Summer Hill). It’s a pretty good view – a long view, from a height. And it’s so freakin’ big. And you just know that the people having a stare are thinking about what they’d do with the site if they owned it. I don’t know why they’re bothering – it belongs to a gang of crows who’ve been terrorising the pigeons in that neck of the woods, and they’re not likely to cede it to a bunch of no-winged two-leggers who’d like a little light industrial inner-city living.
So yeah, my stomach feels a bit odd. I can’t decide if it’s dodgy chicken salad or anxiety. It could quite possibly be low level anxiety. This is the first day I’ve had to myself in the new house with no real jobs to do. I guess I need to go up to Ashfield to get groceries (we have none). I’d really like to get into the city to a) go to see some Art, and (more importantly), b) find that tapestry speciality place. But I’m apparently crippled by… that thing that makes it difficult to leave the house. I think I might chalk all this up to hormones, as I’ve actually been feeling quite wonderful ever since we got here. I really like traveling and I love being in a new city. I like all the walking. Plus Sydney’s fabulous weather is making me feel so good. I hadn’t realised just how draining Melbourne’s grey skies and nasty cold were until we left. I am remembering how nice it is to live in a warmer climate. But I’m not so struck on the increased humidity – I am also remembering its effects on my allergies.

It’s not so much that I’ve been shouting at innocent blokes, but more that I’ve been trying to rub my nose off my face and had trouble concentrating. It could be PMS, but I actually am pretty sure it’s allergies screwing with my mood. I’m trying not to take antihistamines as I seem to be on them every single day, but it’s not really making me feel nice.
I’m also at home because I’m waiting for tradesmen #62 000. Actually, it’s more like tradesman #9. Really. I am liking living in a house where the owner actually fixes things. The things we’ve needed fixed have been fairly inconsequential… well, except for the River of Effluent… but they’ve been fixed immediately.
1. windows painted shut? fixed (Charlie, from Greece – my favourite)
2. fence built? done (whatsit from Malta – initially my least favourite, but later one of my top 5)
3. forgotten bathtub spout? done (young fulla who’s name I can’t remember. ok)
4. garage door doesn’t close? not quite fixed, but at least a couple of blokes came to look at it (one of whom was Mal, whose parents were from Italy).
5. garage door still not closing? still not fixed (another bloke who failed to return and give me his life story, though he did provide a few interesting tips on the tensile strength of various metals).
6. sound proofing? quotes done (including…. can’t remember his name either. But he was Greek by descent and he lives in the outer suburbs but works in Marrickville. He recommends the cakes in Leichardt)
7 and 8. River of Effluent? dammed. (“Maria! Send tradesmen, please! The garden is full of effluent!” 2 young fullas of skip descent, up to their knees in human waste, giving our drains a good routing. White neighbour-cat carefully discouraged from helping)
9. Today it’s another sound proofing guy. Apparently the owner is going ahead with it (which is wonderful). He was supposed to be here between 9.30 and 10, but it’s 10.39 now. He and the garage door guy have failed to return.
Part of me is worried about all this tradesman action. I don’t want to use up all my credit now when I’ll certainly need it in the future… or will I? We have obviously moved up a rental bracket, to that wondrous place where wiring isn’t illegal and life-endangering (we have a trip switch! No plug points have caught fire! We have had electricity for at least three weeks!) and where plumbing is generally sound, barring the usual hiccups of a house that’s over 100 and recently had new pipes installed. No water mains have burst, filling our veggie patches with boiling water. No windows have broken, letting in arctic winds. And the stove works wonderfully. There are no mice (knock on wood), but I have seen one large cockroach in the house. I remembered why I actually wear thongs. After I dealt with it The Squeeze proceeded to sing ‘la cocka roacha!, la cocka roacha!’ around the house for about five minutes in a Tom Waits voice. It was entertaining, but perhaps too entertaining so close to bed time – it was difficult to sleep with the thought of Tom Waits serenading me in a Mexican cantina.
So I’m wondering if we’re tempting fate with all this tradesmen action.
This hasn’t stopped me asking if it’s ok to dig up the garden and plant zillions of herbs. Ordinarily I’d just do it, but the landlord seems pretty house-proud, so the rules are different. Our back neighbour (who lives in the back part of this federation home) is a chef, so he’s also quite keen on a herb garden/veggie patch. He is now My Friend, partly because I am still in post-move aggressive friendliness mode and will not allow otherwise. He is also the owner of aforementioned friendly white cat (Alby).
Alby is convinced he actually lives in our part of the house as well, and follows me around all day. He divides his time between sleeping in front of the front door in the sun, trying to climb into my laundry basket, romancing me with quite lovely accapella and playing in Rivers of Effluent. I am mightily allergic to cats, so there’s no physical contact, a lot of “No! Don’t go in there! Get out of there!” This has, of course, made me both the most interesting and the most appealing part of our neighbourhood.
The other day Alby was joined by Fluffy Tailed Black Cat from round the corner, and they both proceeded to play in the mulch and attempt domestic incursions. Alby failed (I think he’s a bit dumb – he’s very pretty, being white with pale blue eyes and a pink nose – but he’s not so smart. He’s also quite young), but FTBC had a little more luck. I was making the bed when a pair of large black ears was followed by a goofy black face over the other side of the bed. As I picked him up (physical contact! Aaaargh!) he let out a sort of ‘mrprrft’ purr-burp and kept up the chainsaw action as I clamped him under the armpits and hefted him outside.
I have also seen a giant orange and white tom with a mangled up face. Both Alby and I gave him a deal of distance as he marked out the new trees as his territory. We were both willing to concede him sovereignty.
On other fronts, I am working at Gleebooks doing functions (thanks Glen!). I like it a LOT. I was too late for sessional teaching this semester, but have lined up some contacts for next year. I have already DJed one set here in Sydney and am set for a blues set this Sunday. It seems there aren’t too many DJs here, which is a shame. But I’m really enjoying dancing, so I’m not sure I’m ready to DJ a whole lot. I will set limits.
Last weekend we went to Canberra for Canberrang, the Canberra lindy exchange. I bought a Tshirt and DJed one set. We stayed with an old school friend of mine and only attended two night’s worth. I think I prefer shorter events – Fri, Sat, Sun nights max. Any more is kind of too much. We went on the bus and it wasn’t too bad. It was also very cheap. On the way back it snowed and snowed and snowed and snowed. It was like Europe. With eucalypts and kangaroos. We had a good time, over all.
We have quite a few friends here in Sydney, and have already had interstate visitors. Next week we get more. And the next week The Squeeze’s matriarch arrives, so we will get our tourist on, big time. Which I’m looking forward to. I feel like the OPERA HOUSE is out there doing fun things without me every day. Then we have people coming up for SLX in September. Then my mother in October (perhaps). Then we’re down in November for MLX. Then it’s christmas, which we may spend in Melbourne, but we aren’t sure. So it’s all systems go. Sydney is apparently one of those cities people really like to visit. Partly because it rocks – there’s just so much to do. And also because the weather is nice. Which is where it pwns Melbourne.
I like Sydney, but I am a bit sad that there are so few fabric shops. I have seen two in Marrickville, and I have been given the sweet lowdown by a dress making Hollywood lindy hopper, and will get on into the city (Haymarket) to find more. Then there’s Cabramatta, but that’s miles away. At any rate, none are a short bike ride away, so it seems I will have to find new hobbies. Or rediscover old ones. I have also found a yoga studio quite near by, but it is some sort of arty made up bullshit yoga, and not straight out iyengar. I need to get on that ASAP as I miss yoga already. Also, I haven’t ridden my bike once. This means that I’m getting more exercise, but I am missing my bike. Poor blacky, stuck in the shed all day, bored and lonely. The Squeeze has been riding to work in the city and comes home with stories about having his arse kicked by the hills and making friends with other bike riders. This city is disturbingly friendly. Everyone seems so delighted that we’ve left Melbourne for Sydney – there’re lots of “How do you like it?”s and chats with strangers about cake. There are fewer conversations about the weather, but I suppose that’s because it’s so nice here there’s really nothing to say beyond “pwoar – another freakin’ beautiful day, hey?”
Alright, that’s enough blathering. I have to go…. well, not do anything, really, but I might as well think about doing something other than making internet. You know the rules: get out of bed, change out of your pajamas (or pa-yamas! if you’re Tom Waits a la cantina), leave the internet alone after a couple of hours. It is, unsurprisingly, a beautiful day, and there’re fabric shops to stalk.

big, long round up

To celebrate a return to blogdom….
That’s some mighty fine balboa right there. Bal is the ‘tighty whitey’ member of the swing dance family. Seriously popular, seriously cool and absolutely fabulous for really sweet leading and following. There’s less ‘room’ for the follow to improvise (though a decent follow can make it work), but that’s really the appeal – the lead has to not only listen to the music and make it work musically for both partners, they also have to be a really good lead to make the whole thing work. ‘Pure bal’ often refers to the stuff in ‘closed’ position – no open position here. But ‘bal-swing’ is often a term used to include all the other stuff going on in a dance like the one above. These terms are (of course) as contentious as you might expect.
I like it, though I rarely dance it. I can lead very little of it, though I really like the challenge. The bal crowd here are really friendly and fun, so it’s always nice to hang out. And because bal is a lot less physically intense than lindy hop (though the tempos are frequently super fast) you can wear nice clothes and avoid looking like a drowned rat at the end of the night. Having said that, I sweat like a fool when I’m leading anything so perhaps that comment is misleading.
In other news, I’m busily preparing for another semester of lecturing and tutoring (casual basis of course :( ) and work has long since begun on MLX8: the Exchange of the Living Dead. It’s big, it’s bold, it’ll be beautiful. If you like to dance de lindy hop (or blues or bal or whatever) you’ll like this year’s MLX. Winter has pretty much arrived here in the ‘wick, though it’s oscillating between heinous autumn and proper winter, really. Not much rain, over all, which is kind of crap, though it’s very misty and foggy and has been pretty bloody cold.
This past weekend I made a nice suit for interviews. It’s blue, made of some sort of stretch and has a sort of pale grey cross-hatch type pattern (very small and discrete). The suit itself includes a nice pencil skirt (tres chic, apparently) with a nice buttoned flap feature thing at the front. The skirt was originally just making use of some left over remnants, so it’s actually made of six panels – two large front and back pieces and a smaller, narrower rectangular strip down the centre front and back. The feature flap thing was also remnants. The buttons cost about $17 for both skirt and jacket, which is mad as the fabric itself was less than $10 a metre. The jacket is really quite pretty – Simplicity 4412 (pattern B, the green jacket in the bottom right hand corner):
jacket.JPG
I haven’t used contrasting fabric or buttons (just plain blue buttons) and I’ve folded up the wide sleeves to make three quarter sleeves (which looks a lot better than the big sacky ones in the photo. It’s not lined and there aren’t any shoulder pads, though the interfacing is quite stiff and the shoulders do fit quite nicely. I’ve also cut it a bit closer so it fits quite snugly. Overall, it’s very 1930s secretary and gives me the right type of curves. I’m very happy with it. I guess I’m going to have to match it with some sort of heel, as the skirt is over the knee and I want to avoid the frump. But I don’t think I’ll wear it with a shirt under neath as it doesn’t really need it. But perhaps a slip would be a good idea for the skirt.
I also returned to yoga a few weeks ago, after a year’s break. It was like being a complete bubb all over again. The hardest thing was relearning how to lie still and quiet for 10 minutes. But now I’m back to twice a week and I LOVE IT.

weekly round-up

Today is a kind of day out of time for me. The thesis is with the Supes, to be looked at later on (and to be talked about next Thursday). Next week I’m going to get into all the annoying administrative bits of submitting a thesis – cover sheets, descriptions, forms, etc. But this week (ie the last 2 or 3 days, incuding today) I’ve given myself leave to do whatever I like. That means:

  • obsessing about the MLX6 site. I have some neat stuff from our Arty Team (ie Kylee and Scotti – designer and scribbler respectively), and a good plan for the site. But this week was all about designy stuff – trying to make the logo work with the practical functions of the site. Or, in other words, laying it all out on the page in a pretty and yet usable way. Eek.
  • finishing off some sewing jobs that really needed doing (PJs for The Squeeze – bad wobot, altering my lovely plum stretch needle cord trousers so they’re not mega bags, finishing off a neat black (with white arm-stripes, red wrist-cuffs and big red cross on the front) fleece jumper – fleece is neat. I promise to post some sort of pictures at some point. This last jumper was black, white and red in an attempt to be Serious and Grown Up (esp after my pink and red fleece hello-kitty lined hood fleecy cardigan thing), but ended up looking like something Dennis teh Menace would wear:
    dtm.jpg
    I like to imagine that I am, in fact, a comic book hero when I’m burning down Sydney Rd, dodging cars and yelling “BAM!” under my breath* like Frida: Frida.jpgShe does actually yell “BAM!” and she’s probably shouting “YEAH!” in a loud, Swedish-American accent in that photo.
  • discovering last-minute thesis jobs and FREAKING out about them
  • actually submitting my Intention to Submit form (yes, I know – it’s madness. But you have to give them 3 months to find you 3 markers or else you delay the return of your thesis post-marking), with abstract, thesis title (what? you mean I have to name this thing before it’s even finished gestating? what?!). I can’t remember what that was. No, wait, I’ve found it:
    Hepfidelity: Swing dance and the role of digital media in embodied practice
    Ta-DA!
  • And… what else have I done? Oh, I went to see Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, where there were 4 of us in the cinema – me and 3 teenage/first year boys. I laughed at the Huxtable jokes, they laughed at the hip hop references. Cultural capital for all.

So it’s been an ok week. I feel a bit lost, but still. I’ve also been looking for work. Yeah, right. Let’s not talk about THAT.
Anyhoo** here are two interesting things to read:

  • this blog called avant game, which is a far more interesting games studies blog than any I’ve ever read before
  • and B’s entries on meditation, starting here which are quite a lovely read.

I especially like this bit:

Upon returning to Alice Springs, I kept up my practice, and found other people to meditate with from time to time. One group that met on Sunday afternoons was a small Sangha group. It was held in the artist’s workshop out back of the house of one of the members. Although I was not really studying Buddhism, they were always welcoming, and it was a pleasure to sit with them for a half hour in that quiet room, and feel their energy.

I really like this idea of being part of a group while meditating. Meditationg, martial arts and other inwards-looking practices like yoga or Thi Chi can often be seriously inward-looking, or in-the-body. To such an extent that they can affect your outward-looking interactions with others***. I am really interested in the idea of being-in-the-body and inward-focussed, and yet to still be aware of and part of a group or partnership. It’s an idea I’d like to explore a little more. Particularly when you keep in mind that African American vernacular dance – vernacular dance is about being part of a group, about social context, and about call-and-response between dance partners, between dancers on the floor, between musicians and dancers, and between dancers and audiences. Being seriously inwards-looking is kind of not so great in a social dance situation where the dance is all about conversations with others…
* I’m brave, but not that brave.
**that was for you, Galaxy – I’m crazily aware of it now. But I think of a friend called Dave who says it a lot. He’s probably referencing the Simpsons, but I’m referencing an insanely good dancer who’s also a Thai Chi master country boy.
***it’s not uncommon for hardcore martial arts people or yogis to be quite terrible partner dancers because they’re so focussed internally, they are so good at responding with their bodies, they’re not so good at responding with their bodies in relation to others, as a partnership.

yoga fc

It’s world cup time in Melbourne, and even I’m getting a little bit excited. SBS is the world cup channel, with stacks of neat little films on the soccer theme, games, and novelty shows like the one about the socceroos theme song, and of course, Nerds FC. Tonight was the final show (though you can catch it repeated every night at 8pm on SBS from Thursday on), and it was so exciting!
But perhaps my favourite soccer story is actually another yoga story.
My Wednesday morning class is really fun – I’m the youngest yogi there by about 30 years, and usually the least rowdy. We’re not just talking silly jokes and heckling. We’re talking people physically jumping on each other and doing physical comedy (isn’t yoga wonderful?).
One of my favourite people is Rosa, who’s pretty much representative of half the nannas in Brunswick – short, Italian, pushy, friendly and fun. Our teacher Frank is Italian as well, and excellently wicked. Rosa is just a noob yogi, but as per Frank’s general approach to yoga (whether you’re the 10 year old daughter or the 90 year old nanna) is ‘have a go’. It’s nice because he’s careful to work with you if you’re a little bit fragile or scared or cranky.
Last time I was in the class Frank took care to tease Rosa. With one leg up on a table, Frank exclaims “Rosa! You’re not swearing at me in Italian are you?” and she wasn’t – but Frank can lip read.
Then, as we did the kneeling thing (which I don’t like at all), she exclaims “Ah! I don’t even kneel down in church!” and we laughed and Frank responded “bit stiff there, Rosa? Too much world movies” and she swore at him again.
This week, once he had her balanced upside down on a pair of chairs in a headstand (truly amazing – Rosa isn’t young, and she’s pretty round – we were all suitably admiring and she was justifiably proud), Frank declared “now she’s up there, she’s going to make us all spaghetti” and we laughed, because none of us doubted she could.
And later again, doing the kneeling thing again,
“There Rosa, now you’ll be able to stay up later watching World Movies”
and Rosa said “if I can’t sleep tonight because it hurts…”
“ah, no, Rosa, we’re getting you into practice for when the World Cup starts – it doesn’t start til 1am you know.”
And more laughing.
I love that yoga class, because it’s not all quiet meditation and seriousness. It’s fun and friendly and with lots of laughing. So we all feel comfortable and brave enough to do stuff that scared us.
There are quiet times for being in our bodies, but there are also silly, laughing bits. And lots of partner work and hands-on stuff from Frank. There’s also only a small number of poses, but we make sure to do them properly and then hold them for ages.
… the only thing better than my yoga classes would be going to the kids yoga classes. Can you imagine?
and i’m not the only one who likes silly yoga jokes – so do the patriarchy and fussy

taking a cat for a walk: DJing and phenomenological media studies

I’m addressing some interesting points Brian raise in the comments to the unexpectedly entry from a couple entries ago.
Brian writes in that comment:

That of course leads on to the big question is: “Is playing a small amount of non-swing music at a swing event a major problem.” The smarty pants answer would be, just play some Neo. My real answer is I don’t know. What I to know is that to put a non-swing song in your set and for it to go down will with all the dancers takes a lot of skill. I find you must first make sure all the classic hard core dancers are happy and maybe even some of them left (gone outside) the room. Play some hardcore classic songs in a row of upper tempo and you should achieve this. Then it’s a matter is checking if those “non-swing mood group are in the room and ready to dance. You then need to make the transition and then comes the non-swing song. And hey the songs selection is like bringing a cat for a walk.

This section really interested me. That’s a really clever approach. I’d been thinking “there’s no way I’m every playing neo because I hate it”. But this scheme offers me a new approach. It reminds me of Trev’s comment here on Swing Talk where he says:

Yes, the ‘wave’!
I was using it last night (will post set soon) – although lately i’ve been more brutal with my tempo changes – it’s great for shaking things up, and avoids things “sounding all the same”.
Don’t be afraid to drop in a fast, high energy one when you have the floor full at medium. I’m not talking crazy fast, but something around 190-210bpm. The folks that are into it will be hanging out for it, and if you keep the tempos too low (to keep the floor full) they will get bored/lazy. Even if you only get 2 couples dancing to a fast song, you get the benefits of:
a) lifting the energy/enthusiasm of the room even if they don’t dance; b) inspiring others to get better go they can do it too. It’s not the same for everyone, but when I was new watching a high-energy dance motivated me to keep at;
c) sending people to the bar to spend their $ on the venue!
If you do it right, the room will be buzzing, and you can follow up with something at around 150 and everyone will be right back into it.
I generally wouldn’t play more that 2 fast tempo songs in a row. People start getting pissed if they don’t want to/can’t dance fast, and tired if they’ve been dancing to it.

(NB the setlist he’s referring to is here, though I’m not sure which setlist he means)). For a description of ‘the wave’ check out this thread on swingdjs.
… ok, so now to address the point.
Basically, both Trev and Brian are suggesting that the DJ use the ‘wave’ – which is a way of describing the general ‘flow’ of mood in the room, to provoke a particular response from dancers. It’s hard to explain how it works with dancers, but
I’ve just been reading some fascinating articles referring to David Seamon’s book A Geography of the Lifeworld where he describes exactly this phenomeon – people making a space ‘place’ by repeated actions and social interaction. So, everyday a man makes a coffee shop ‘place’ by rising at 8, walking to the coffee shop, buying a paper, ordering a poached egg and coffee, eating and reading til 9 when he walks on to work. The man comments that he is only made aware of how ‘comforting’ and ‘warm’ this cafe space is when the series of actions is interrupted by something like the paper being sold out.
Seamon talks about this as people becoming aware of their ‘precognitive’ behaviour only when it’s interrupted. In other words, he’s interested in what happens when people are made conscious of the stuff they do habitually in particular spaces to make those spaces a ‘place’.
This phenomenological stuff really makes me laugh, because they write like no one has ever thought to investigate what happens when you make people aware of their unconscous habits. When of course, any physiotherapist, yoga instructor or dance teacher spends all their working hours helping people develop a ‘body awareness’, where they become conscious of the things they do habitually with their bodies and muscles.
but anyway…
That theory seems particularly relevent to this discussion of DJing, because DJs are basically people who develop the skills to manipulate the mood of a room full of dancers so as to get them all dancing. I’ve been absolutely fascinated, as a noob DJ, by the way the choices I make in playing songs and combining songs can affect the mood of a crowded room. While, as a dancer, I respond unconsciously to the music, either getting really ‘high’ with uptempo, upenergy music, or getting really ‘low’, and moderating my dancing (my unconscious movements and social behaviour), as a DJ, I’ve had to become conscious of this process and figure out how it works.
It’s important to note that ‘precognitive’ behaviour is essential to skilled partner dancing. I’m frequently reminding myself ‘stop thinking!’ and ‘just follow!’. It’s like driving a manual car – you suddenly reach a point when you’re learning where the combination of accelerator, clutch, gear stick, etc becomes unconscious. And when you’re suddenly made conscious of this process, it often stuffs up.
Leading, however, can be more comfortably ‘cognitive’ than following as you are planning and determining the course of the dance. I have found, though, that the best dances, the most effective ones, where I really use my centre to move their centre, are the ones where I relax and ‘just move my body’ naturally, rather than ‘trying to lead’ in order to effect weight changes which in turn move the follow’s weight – effecting their weigh changes.
So when Trev talks about manipulating the wave (ie developing a ‘mood’ or ‘vibe’ in the room, or, to use Seamon’s approach, making a space ‘place’ through playing music which will provoke particular social responses through dance), Brian talks about exploiting the wave/dancers’ response to the wave to sneak in songs which are potentially going to ‘break’ the wave. So he plays ‘risky’ songs (like neo) after a couple of faster, old school swinging jazz traacks, so that he can exploit the old school fans’ taking time out for a break to slip in some neo. So the potential ‘risk’ of playing the neo stuff is ameliorated.
Trev also talks about ‘breaking’ the wave constructively by making quicker transitions between tempos – dropping in a fast one, even if the floor was full at slower tempos, then dropping the tempo down again to ‘recover’ and pick up the dancers who’ve stepped off the floor for that fast song. And, incidentally, giving those who danced the faster song a break.
This is fascinating shit, because it all reveals how important it is as a DJ to be a dancer, but perhaps more importantly, to consciously recognise how dancers respond to combinations of songs and musical moods to manipulate the mood of the room, but also to ‘please everyone’. I adore this approach because of the way it contrasts with the comment “you can’t please everyone” a DJ (whose work doesn’t impress me at all) said to me recently. This comment ‘you can’t please everyone’ seems (in the case of this DJ) to serve as justification for not attempting to work the room and ‘wave’. Or rather, to me it seems like this DJ made this comment because they are simply unaware of these issues. Which holds true with their dancing, where they are similarly ‘unaware’ of other dancers in the immediate vicinity, unable to ‘feel’ their partners’ weight changes, and have a propensity for rough leads.
In my own DJing, however, I’ve recently discovered that I can actually keep the floor full for the entire set, at a 100% strike rate. This usually means playing mid-tempo songs, and not taking any ‘risks’. Yet one of the results of this approach is that some of the dancers (mostly that hardcore, experienced group), while they’re dancing every song and enjoying themselves, really want me to play some faster songs as well.
I’ve been a bit tentative about doing this, as the numbers on the floor immediately drop when faster songs are played (though I have noticed that they pick up or don’t drop if the song is very swingy and good quality). One thing I have learnt, as Trev has pointed out, is that it’s ok to drop the numbers for a song or two. I’ve also found that if the floor does empty (for any reason, whether the song was fast, or you’ve played a dud) there are ways to fill it again – I have a few ‘safety songs’ which will always fill the floor. So it’s ok to play fast songs, empty the floor, and then fill it again. As Trev has pointed out, playing the odd faster song will, while people stand out for a song or too, actually pump up the energy in the room. And, as Brian points out, it also gives you an opportunity to play something that group of experienced, old school faster dancers wouldn’t dance to anyway, even if they weren’t standing on the sidelines strugging to breathe.
Another trick that Brian has noted before, is that if you do take the tempos up really high, you can actually raise the overall tempos when you play the next song. So if you find the room is stuck at about 140bpm, playing something at 200, while it may clear the room for those 3 minutes, will actually make it possible for you to follow up with something at 160 or 180, because it feels so much slower, comparatively, people get out there and dance. So allowing you to up the general tempo of the room, and change the overall wave.
I have noticed, however, that while you can raise the tempos generally, you will have to bring them down again eventually, as people’s energy and stamina wears out. I had previously been obsessed with getting tempos up and keeping there, as if 200bpm was my ultimate goal. Now I realise that it’s about varying tempos over the course of the night – the wave is a wave, and not just an incline. The trick is, of course, managing these crests and troughs without dropping the energy and tempos prematurely.
So DJing is a really interesting way of putting into practice that phenomenological approach to media use in everyday spaces.
NB when we say ‘bpm’, we mean ‘beats per minute’. The average speed of house or ‘dance’ music is 120bpm. The average tempo for dancing lindy in the 1930s was 180bpm. I can follow comfortably up to 180bpm, then I have to work harder. I can lead comfortably up to about 160. 20s Charleston, however, requires faster tempos – over 200 is average. Over 300 is ‘fast’. We can dance to such high tempos in lindy because the music ‘swings’ – it doesn’t feel like you’re rushing, and in fact really swinging songs feel slower than they are. Which helps to keep you relaxed, as you can’t dance fast if you’re freaking. 20s charleston, however, is usually danced to ‘dixie’ or jazz from the 20s, which predates swing, and has a different timing – 1-2, 1-2, 1-2 rather than 1-2-3-4, 5-6-7-8.
FYI: 180bpm is more than 3 steps per second, as we actually make 10 weight changes (or steps) in the basic lindy rhythm and Swing Out (fundamental step of lindy).