Friday, December 4, 2015

I Must Be Crazy


I guess this is one of those life experiences that can't be predicted or prepared for. No matter how well you read up or plan or anticipate, sometimes crazy stuff just happens.

Here I am, in pursuit of this idea that I have about cultivating creativity and learning through dance and the other activities I enjoy. I've been looking for opportunities to increase my financial stability as well and have been taking up different types of jobs.

I teach dance (group classes and privates), I teach and assist with arts and crafts for children and I work to manage the operations of a business that provides training in the HR field.

My niece stated at a new Middle School and participated in a volleyball camp which I decided to volunteer for. Just like old times. Its been almost 3 years since I touched  volleyball so I thought, why not? This in turn led me to a coaching position for the Girl's High School JV-C team which then let me to a long term teaching position to teach Math in the 7th grade.


What crazy? So many things!

Burning both ends of the candle: School starts at 8:00am and I dance till about 1am. Oh buy! I've had to cut back and I'm still testing my limits so we'll see how that goes.

7th graders (12-13 year olds): Ah! God bless all Middle School teachers. What an interesting age and one that I have the hardest time relating to. The great thing is that the school is small enough so I'm getting to know my students - all 52 of them - little by little. Some of them are so adorable and some, well, let's just say that they could use a good spanking.

Grading, Planning, etc: A teacher doesn't just teach, there's grading, planning, advising and so many other things. I'm remembering how balancing all of that with my own other interests can be a challenge.

Free time? I got used to making my own day and just lazing about when I can. Now, there are more deadlines and commitments to keep up. Its not a bad thing, just something to get used to again.

What's the trade off?

Stability for the time being. Money has never been one of the top things that drive me. Don't get me wrong, I know that it's necessary and that I need to live within my means. I too have dreams of not needing to pinch pennies and all that. I do think that the pursuit of dreams requires some strong introspection about the kind of life you want to lead along the way to achieving that dream. I now have a job that pays a regular salary and benefits which helps - a LOT!

Teaching despite all its challenges for me personally provides a sense of giving back to and contributing to someone else's life in a positive way that is quite unique and gratifying. Math is subject that has its own set of negative stereotypes to overcome and what I think the kids I work with are in need of is this need to validate "am I right?".  I do my best to teach them that with Math, you can at least check your work and thus gain the confidence in yourself and your learning. Its just taking those first few uncertain and scary steps to build that skill and confidence. I love it when I can give a kid a high five for acing a math problem they previously thought they couldn't do.

I'm still Dancing! and so the compromise is still workable. We'll see how that goes.

I still get to do all the trips that I planned before I started to teach. It was part of the agreement with the school which is not an easy thing to do because if you teach, you know that being absent during the school year is a big deal. So, I'm here in Manila with my family for the next month, relaxing and recharging a bit while I investigate some possibilities that could lead to more exciting things.

Changes are still on the horizon and my long term plans are far from set. This is certainly not quite what I envisioned for myself 20 years ago or even in high school when guidance counselors, teachers and parents asked me to look ahead.

One thing is for sure, I am a bit crazy to live with all this uncertainty but for now, its working.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Tips for Learning

Being new at something and learning again can be a vulnerable place to be as an adult. There's no shortcut to getting good at something but there is definitely a shortcut to having fun while you're learning. I love learning: it keeps me alive and engages me like no other.

It occurred to me that it would be worth sharing why I feel this way and share some tips to help others who are beginning to learn something new, like dancing for the first time.

Here's what I love about learning:
  • Discovery mode: a mode I associate with young children learning about something for the first time. Its a lot of wonder with a lot of "Aha!" with some things that make you go "hmmmmm!" mixed in. 
  • I'm back at the beginning which is a place that holds an excitement and energy that only comes with being at the start of something new. 
  • Sponge mode: when I'm in learning mode, my mind is more open and focused on absorbing and trying to soak it all in
  • Mind blown: When I'm learning, I'm actively connecting dots in my head as I relate what I'm learning with other things that I already know. Every now and again, my brain gets a bit of a twist when I see something in a different light, get a little confused or just have an "aha!" moment.
  • Geeking out with others: I'm connecting with other people just like me who are learning.  
You may read this list and think "Um, these are the LAST things that are going through my mind when I'm starting to learn something new."

Well sure, BUT that doesn't mean I don't go through some of the other things that a beginner goes through: 
  • Fear of looking like an idiot
  • Fear of not being good enough
  • Fear of being rejected
  • Fear of making a mistake
  • Fear of not getting it
And so, my first tip is:

In my opinion, this is the biggest and most impactful thing you can do. When a child is learning we  tell them that its ok to make mistakes and just focus on learning. Well, that's true for everyone regardless of age. Just because we got a few years older, doesn't change the fact that in a state of learning, you have to cut yourself some slack. In fact, I believe that learning mode connects you to your inner child and well, that's just rejuvenating.

That inner perfection god or goddess that drives you to be good at everything: tell them to take a chill pill and head to the spa for from rest and relaxation. As a student, you're focus should be on learning and absorbing and being part of whatever learning community you find yourself in: even if its is for only one hour every week. 


I am a firm believer that once you say "I can't do that." then you create a resistance that hinders your learning. Its fine if you don't believe that something will ever happen - just don't say it out loud and keep the thought suspended for a little bit.

I remember starting lessons with a dance instructor who basically said "By the end of our sessions, you'll be doing this." and proceeded to demonstrate a spin drill. I just laughed out loud and said "Sure, whatever you say." when what I really meant was "Are you crazy? No way!!"

He walked me through the exercise which was hard but doable and well, it took some perseverance over a few months and lots of practice and while I'm nowhere near the level of my dance director (I've been learning from him for that past 5 years), I can definitely do those moves that I thought I laughed at doing in our first lesson together.


If you consider yourself an expert at something, anything, then when you're learning something new, you should just put all that aside and become someone "fresh" again. Every experience teaches you something, even if it teaches you that you never want to experience it again. Every master teacher that I've admired and aspired to be is a master student at heart. Learning is not just about how good you are or can be, its also about the process so enjoy it and just immerse yourself in the discovery.

OK, that's the mental part, now for the more practical part of learning.


Life is busy, you've finally set aside one hour a week to learn something and that's a great 1st step. If you're truly wanting to get better at something you'll need to set aside a little more time to absorb and assimilate what you learn. This is especially true of dance.

Part of the fun in learning is the satisfaction that you get knowing that you're getting it and improving. So, for social dancing, acclimating your movements to music is a must if you're not used to it. 

A few minutes a day will make a world of difference on top of  just one hour a week. The constant repetition is key to reprogramming and learning. When you're learning to dance, you have to get used to the movement and then map that to music and it helps to do a little bit every day.


Dancing is great because there's this complex thing that happens: you have to move to music you hear and then if you social dance, you have to communicate with your partner how to move with you. When these things align, its a magic moment which you can repeat and enjoy.

Coordinating movement to a rhythm can be done many ways and here's how I like to learn things and it basically starts from the group up:
  1. Learn how the feet move AND listen to the music. 
  2. Learn the rhythm of the movement AND listen to the music.
  3. Learn how the rhythm fits with the music.
  4. Learn how the rest of the body moves.
  5. Learn the signals to communicate back and forth with your dance partner.
  6. Express and have fun with the dance.
The faster you get to 3 above, the better off you are. It doesn't really take a lot - but it does take time. I always recommend counting or sounding the rhythm as quickly as possible to the music. Sometimes you can't do that if you're too busy figuring out how your feet move which is why I recommend getting that out of the way first. So you can do 1-3 above in parallel.

In practicing movement, be more aware of your own body and how it naturally moves. In the beginning, we spend a lot of time mimicking our teachers to look just like them but to truly own your dancing, you have to eventually do what works best for you. You do have to look at the mirror and see what works and it often helps to get feedback from someone you trust and can work with. Mastering techniques for movement is one thing and owning your own movement is another that is equally important.


If you can say "this feels or looks like something I already know" then you learn things faster. As you increase your vocabulary of movement, learning other movements can become a bit easier by association.

Of course, if you're doing something for the first time, there's nothing to associate with but just remember that you can associate movements or leanings with things that you've experienced in other contexts besides the one that you're learning in.


New things can be uncomfortable so you have to embrace being uncomfortable while you learn. When you confirm with your instructor that you're doing what he/she is asking you to do, and it still feels "weird", then just remind yourself that its something new that your body/brain has to get used to.


People try to be helpful and if they can help you, they will, sometimes without you even asking. That's kind of like getting a ton of advice from everyone while you're still trying to figure things out and it can be overwhelming and confusing. Focus on the instructions of who you're learning from, ask LOTS of questions if you're not sure and just be thankful that everyone is so helpful.

"Patience Grasshopper."

That line is from an old TV series call Kung Fu and its what the old master tells the young boy as he tries to master the discipline. It takes time.

Take these tips to heart and the time it takes will pass in no time - at least you'll be having fun while you learn and get better.

Sometimes you will meet and encounter things that are discouraging and negative. Focus on the fun and positive things, cut yourself some slack while you're learning. Remember that struggles are just steps along the way and don't get discouraged. If you do stop having fun, then perhaps a break or pause in the learning might be needed but I recommend pushing through your discomfort anyway and focusing on those times when you have a big smile on your face.

After all is said and done - you have to be happy with who you are and own what you do. This applies to learning how to dance (or anything else): take the learning and make it a part of you.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Opportunity Knocks: I Need Your Vote

Mission Main Street Grants

Life definitely sends you some funny curve balls.

As I enter my fifth decade, I'm three years into finding and living my bliss and I'm at a crossroads to decide what to do to further my dreams. What comes my way? This opportunity to really make a difference.

Its short notice but what the heck right? The Mission Main Street Grant is a $100,000 grant awarded by Chase to 20 Businesses. (Here's more information about the grant.)

I have a deadline of June 5th to submit answers to five questions AND I need 250 votes by June 19 to make it to the evaluation round to be considered for the Mission Main Street Grant by Chase which will be awarded in September.

If I have helped you in anyway, made an impact on your life somehow, if you want to continue to attend my events and participate in some other new ventures I try, or even if you just like me and want to help -

Click on that button on the top of the page and VOTE now

Feel free to share with others and don't wait, deadline is June 19. Thanks so much for your help.

I want to create a Creative Learning Lab that allows people a fun environment to learn, explore and discover themselves with others. I believe that social partner dancing is a key activity that facilitates learning and personal growth and also builds community so I want to teach partner dancing in ways that allow this learning to happen. I also want to create a community that is welcoming and self-sustaining where its members pay it forward to help keep the community thriving. I also want to foster cooperative competition with others like myself who want to to grow through their passions.

My business is teaching partner dance (Kizomba with some Bachata and Salsa) and producing dance and social event for people to learn about Kizomba and connect with a larger community that also enjoys learning, dancing, music and culture. Dancing allowed me to give form to expressing joy through movement with another person and allowed me to participate and give back in a warm and welcoming community so I want to share and facilitate that experience for others.

I'm starting with Kizomba and hoping to grow it past this dance into other dances and other activities that I love: art and cooking. Can you imagine a space where you can do all three? Geek out on whatever you wish or just be a newbie experiencing something for the first time.


  • Continue to bring the best instructors here to Seattle for Kizomba and Semba through weekend workshops and social dancing.
  • Develop a new curriculum of classes that are focused on musicality to help dancers that have grasped the basics to further their dance. EX: I want to try to find a live band to teach with to help dancers hear elements in the music better.
  • Develop other programs that involve teaching dance to help with building confidence and another to help build intimacy in relationships.
  • Bring together Kizomba teachers from all over the US to cooperatively discuss how to teach better, how to build community and how to enable cost effective exchange between communities and have this be an annual or bi-annual event. Expand this to different dance eventually.
  • Develop a Travel and Exchange Program to help bring dancers closer to the cultural and musical context of the dance.
  • Work with the Bachata Seattle team on the same programs to expand the Bachata community. 
  • Find a space or work cooperatively with other studios and businesses to promote the art and cooking aspect of my Creative Learning Lab.
  • Find business partners with strengths in marketing and sales to help me grow my market reach and monetize my ideas to create a sustainable business.

Monday, April 27, 2015


One of the questions I am often asked is "What makes a good follow?" in social partner dancing. Then, there's also the follow-up: "How do you teach someone to be a good follow?".

There are two core things that I believe to be true for ANY role in the partner dance. I believe that social partner dancing is a way to express what one hears in the music with someone else. For me, the beauty and joy of partner dancing is at its best when the partnership is something that both dancers can enjoy.
1) Understand the rules of the dance and the music. The music drives the dance and different dances have conventions that need to be understood. There's no escaping that you have to understand the music and the dance together. By conventions I refer to things that are foundations like the step pattern if there is one, how to step and move and engage with your partner.

2) Understand my body and how it moves. As a dancer my body is what I use to express, respond and connect in the dance. In order to use it well, I have to know what I can do to move with balance, grace and in the partnership with someone else. To develop this understanding, it means I have to explore different kinds of movement to different kinds of music.

As anyone hooked on dancing will attest to, one can spend a lifetime learning and perfecting these core tenants. This is another reason I love dancing, the process of learning and growing never really ends.

One final ingredient is your mindset.

Here's mine:

I aspire to make every dance I dance as enjoyable as possible with the person I dance with. 

This doesn't mean that I sacrifice myself at the expense of my partner. It does mean that I have an equal say in the dance to make it as fun as possible.

Given that I am already working on the core things above, here are some three main skills that I constantly work on to perfect my following:

LISTEN  - I listen to the music so I can understand what my lead hears in the song. I listen to how my lead moves and "hear" his expression of the  music through his dancing. I develop radars everywhere using my eyes, my limbs etc.

For example, in Kizomba: I pay attention to how my lead steps and moves. What are the signals I can use to know that the step is slow, at tempo, faster. What is the indication for me to turn?  Every step is a new step so I focus on how to understand the different ways my partner is stepping.

In other dances, I look at my partner's body and arm position. There are many other subtle clues to what's coming next and the more I dance and the more I dance with different people, the better I get at reading the signs early so I can be ready to respond and eventually respond with time to play (see Express below). 

MATCH - I do my best to match and flow of his movement while still maintaining my own balance: equal to what my lead is suggesting/asking. When there is too much resistance or not enough connection - I know that something is off so I try to adjust: its not a fight - its a flow. 

Matching sometimes means that I hold off on styling to make sure that I continue the flow that my lead has initiated. Matching also means that sometimes, I mimic what my lead is doing, or pick up partway and make a variation of my own. I counter or change time or move in contrast to something he just did.

Matching also means using the same force and energy that I am led with to complete my movements. It become a cycle while the music plays: energy and movement is absorbed, transformed and then sent back between the partners in the social dance.

EXPRESS - I keep my presence known so that my lead knows that I'm dancing with them to the music. Sometimes that means I yield to the lead's musicality and expression because we're in sync anyway, sometimes it means I suggest something without interrupting their flow. Oftentimes its a combination.

Expression is where I get to be who I am in the partnership and it is where I can share what I hear in the music with my partner. It is where I can do one or more of these things to make the dance I have as much fun as can be, to inspire, complement, enhance or expand the experience for myself and my dance partner.

Its only three points but there's a lot within each one and if you keep thinking about all of them at once, well, your brain might explode and your body just freeze with too much to do. There are also so many teachers and helpful souls out there that want to give you advice. Just remember that you know yourself best and give yourself space to learn, absorb, apply and integrate.

Challenges can drive you but they can also discourage you and depending on where you're at in your learning cycle and confidence, it can easily cause you to want to stop dancing. Don't let it. What I recommend is:
1) Have an open mind and be patient. You know the deal, Rome wasn't built in a day right?
2) Be true to yourself and what it is you love about the dance. Its easy to get swayed by other people. This is after all an activity that is very extroverted and feedback from others is always around whether you want it or not. Not all dances will be fun and some of the people you will meet are definitely not your type. When in doubt, look to yourself for validation and find your support system and the people that care about you for help. Don't let some jerk or negative experience define what you do or trap you into something that makes you miserable.
4) Take a break and come back to it when you need. Sometimes, you just need to reset so reset! Dance will always be there and being welcomed back after a long absence can be a very much needed boost to a tired or weary demeanor.

My experience with learning is that each of these things are like layers: when one layer becomes so much a part of you that you don't have to think about it anymore, then another layer comes into focus OR you have time to perfect the next layer. Also, as you learn and your sensors and movements become second nature, you're instincts will take over and then BAM! more magic happens.

What I love about following is the I have last word in the interaction and I can influence the next move. I love that as a follow I an open up possibilities for my lead in the dance, whatever level they might be. What I love about partner dancing is when my lead and I are on the same wavelength with what we hear in the music and that we can be ourselves while appreciating and inspiring each other in the dance. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Compare and Contrast the Beauty in Dance

Its rare that I get a chance to share the two interpretations of couples dancing to the same song in their respective styles. The song is Soha Mil Pasos (in case you wanted to know the lyrics and what them men, check it out here).

The first is by a couple who dance and teach kizomba: Felicien and Isa.

The second is a couple dancing tango to the same song. I wish I knew the names of the couple so I could give them credit. The most I can do is share their beautiful interpretation of the song through dance.

By watching the two videos,  which I feel match the music well, you can see the difference in the movements that are made by the dancers within their respective styles. Kizomba and Tango are often compared to each other and while I made an attempt to compare and contrast the two dances in words, a visual is always better.

I love both Tango and Kizomba. I am more focused on Kizomba for many reason (building community, the music speaks to me more than some Tango music does) but Tango will always have a place in my heart because I love the way the lead and follow interact with each other through their steps, legs and feet. From the waist up the dance is calm and smooth but there is so much going on as they move together. The same can be said for Kizomba.

At any rate, these might help you see why I love these dances and dancing and how there is so much variety in how we dance to music.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 Retrospective - Happy New Year 2015!!

T-20 minutes away till the new year ... that's when I started writing but after being distracted by the barrage of fireworks, I fell asleep before posting this so HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Growing up in Manila, fireworks have always been an integral part of the new year celebration. I remember from when I was very young, in the house that belonged to my grandfather, we would launch our own fireworks in the garden. First there was a gathering of family for dinner followed by fireworks out in the yard. I loved playing with sparklers and watching the explosion of lights in the sky. We had noisemakers to play with and nobody would tell us to stop. Fireworks and making noise are all part of warding of all the ghost and evil spirits to welcome the new year.
When I was about 13 years old, we moved away to our own home and New Year's Eve became a tamer celebration. It was still focused on family dinner but instead of having our own, we would get home before the craziness of fireworks and smoky streets began from everyone else that celebrated with fireworks.
For the first time in I don't know how long, after our family dinner, my brother, sister and I along with cousins of the same generation and a few of the next sat together around our dining room table to share stories of our childhood and what we've been up this past year over wine. 

2014 started tenuously for me. The family had major health issues to deal with and I was re-evaluating some personal relationships. I was dealing with a lot of uncertainty with hope for the best and hurt that needed time to heal. I started the year on slightly unsteady footing with the faith that these things would work themselves out. 

After celebrating the New Year in the Philippines, I headed back to Seattle the next day for one day: enough to pack and get ready for a trip to Reno for a dance festival. I was coming back from three months of being away from dance so I was looking forward to being with my dance family and dancing all weekend long. I ddin't expect to be part of 32 couples from all over the US performing together to represent the Island Touch Dance Academy: that was just epic! It was the start of things to mark my year: dance festivals and travel to cities for dance and recreation.

In February I taught at  festival in LA where I met people from Texas and San Francisco. I don't usually seek out the limelight but I am certainly appreciative of recognition and acknowledgement when they are directed at me so it was really nice to meet people for the first time and hear that they've been looking forward to meeting me. I also discovered that LA has a great salsa scene with some very fun dancers who play with music and connection everytime they dance. 

Mexico City: I never realized how big it was. I had been to Mexico before but to smaller, more tourist oriented locations. I was invited to teach kizomba there for a weekend in March and some other folks from Seattle and LA came along as well. It was our first Mexico City - Seattle Kizomba Exchange. There were many highlights to the trip but these are ones that stand out for me: dancing on pyramids, dancing on a grass lawn in this fairy tale house, dancing outdoors in Belles Artes and meeting people who are kindred spirits in their approach to dance and kizomba.

Shortly after that, in April, I got to travel to Japan: a country that I've admired from afar. I was always fascinated by so many things about Japan: their aesthetic of beauty and simplicity, the samurai code, the world of the geisha, the way they assimilate from others to make things Japanese, origami, ikebana, manga, anime and the cute things best described as kawaii. For such a huge, sprawling city full of people, I never once felt fearful of anything. I finally got to spend some time in an onsen and experienced the peace and tranquility that I only previously read about and imagined. There's so much more to see, I'm definitely going back.

Then we had another family trip to Kauai where we spent a few days in Hana. Its beautiful out there but when the sun goes down and it gets dark, there's nothing to do for us city folk. We stayed at an place right by the water so the sounds of waves breaking against the beach and rain on the roof were my lullabies. There were also so many bugs at night: attracted to the light of my computer when everyone else was asleep. I'm glad bugs don't wig me out so much, I wouldn't have been able to sleep otherwise. I lost all sense of time for a few days.

It was around this time when the uncertainty in January faded and things were definitely taking a turn for the better. I was readjusting to many things: hurts were finally fading and some new relationships were forming to renew my faith in finding people who are a joy to be with and who accept and appreciate me.

For my birthday in May I went to London to spend time with a friend and teacher, to meet and dance with folks that I've only corresponded with over facebook. I hadn't been to London in years so it was great to be back not just to sight see but also to make new friends and grow in my dance.
The summer in Seattle was great but I was stressed because I had to move. I loved living in Belltown and I hate moving but I was presented with an opportunity that was too good to pass up so I purged my belongings (not all of it but a LOT of it) and moved to Wallingford to start the last quarter of 2014.

In October I combined a dance vacation with a mini-high school reunion in DC. I rarely feel as old as I am. When I get together with my high school friends, it doesn't make me feel my age because we pick up from where we last saw each other and enjoy being with each other again (usually over food). Its only when we start to talk about their kids and how some of them are already in college or getting ready to go that I realize how old I really am.
In the fall my sister also helped me to make a connection that allowed me to teach some of my crafts to kids after school. I found a community of parents and children that love arts and crafts and its so much fun to be able to "work" at what I consider play. Its been so much fun and it also reaffirmed one of my ideas to spark creativity in others through a creative lab. 

Over Thanksgiving, instead of time with family, I spent time with my dance families. I attended the Seattle Salsa Congress where I got to perform with my Bachata team, perform with my  mambo team and complete the dance challenge with a group of artist that I've always admired and aspired to be. On top of that, I got to teach Kizomba and see how much its grown over the years here in Seattle. It was totally unplanned and such a kick when the artists that we paid our homage to also got on stage with us to perform. For myself it took the pressure out of the performance so I could just have fun with it and I know how much it meant to some other folks on my team - what a rush! It was a stressful and tiring weekend since I pushed myself with performance and dance. I still got a lot of really great dancing (Kizomba, Bachata and Salsa) while making closer connections with new and existing friends

As 2014 winds to a close, I visited Korea for a few days before returning to celebrate the holidays in the Philippines. I forgot how cold winters can be: thank goodness for advances in clothing technology to keep me warm without the bulk. I discovered some of the history of Korea when we visited the Imperial Palace and that for some reason, it is the land of socks. Markets had stalls that just sold socks: a LOT of them and all different styles and designs. Who knew? I didn't get a chance to try the jijimbang and some other things so that will be on the list for next time. 

That brings us to the present time in Manila where I've spent the last week eating, sleeping, shopping, reading comics, watching TV and catching up with cousins and friends. 

We Chinese believe that whatever you do the 1st of the year is what you will spend the rest of that year doing and so far things are going well. I'm publishing my first blog article of the year, planning some dancing engagements for when I return, enjoying all the facebook greetings and having fun with my nieces and nephews. I'm looking forward to spending some time with my cousins cooking up something new for the year.

Happy New Year and welcome to 2015!!