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Showing posts from October, 2017

Valencia – dances with Spirit, Satchmo and Collectiva 2017/10/29

The seaside city of Valencia is home to inspiring blues dance teachers and festivals. However during my visit, the blues teachers were away on tour, their social scene dormant. My bad blues timing and lodging over a 12-lane ring road on the fringe of a smelly-yet-trendy immigrant barrio made me wonder if I had made a mistake in coming to Valencia. Luckily a vibrant culture of other dances and arts made up for the blues drought. Also, the fast-gentrifying neighbourhood of Ruzafa grew on me, thanks to easy cycling access, good cafes and a friendly host. A welcoming Bulgarian lady hosted me... let's call her M. She had previously lived in Cuba and worked as a dancer in the Dominican Republic. Until the 2008 financial crisis, she had worked in real estate. M. said  that permanent work is impossible to get in Valencia at her age (46), so she makes her living from Airbnb. She stopped dancing a few years ago due to injury and other issues. In her abundant free time M. is utterly dedicat…

Contact improv at a hippie hideout 2017/10/23 CanMasdeu

On Sunday, Neil, Mauve and I took the train from the historic centre of Barcelona almost to the end of the line and walked a few hundred metres up the hill. CanMasdeu is a huge, institutional building, surrounded by trees and a veggie garden. It has a cross over its highest arch and has a view across the city, to the sea. The site has an interesting history that goes back to Roman times, later housing a convent, and then a lepers hospital. Today it is a squatted social and cultural centre.
We arrive just in time for a simple meal in the garden, and the start of a range of workshops. Our attempt to participate in the outdoor art workshop is aborted after I'm attacked by mosquitoes. Neil, Mauve and I return to the building to try a movement and intimacy workshop. The dance studio is a beautiful room with windows looking out onto the green hills, and an amazing black rubber floor. We are guided through breathing and relaxation meditations in corpse pose. We visualise colour and land…

Kindred spirit dancing in Barcelona

What an adventure... encounters with strangers, soon to become friends. There were so many happy moments at Drag the Blues festival… dancing by night, exploring Barcelona by day. The highlight of the first night was the after-party at TeatreNeu... a cosy two-storey bar with large, airy wooden floors. Dreamy dances happened here. I teamed up with dancers who would be free in the daytime: my lovely Californian roommate Dana, Neil from Bristol, Amy from LA and Mauve from Toulouse. The next morning, Neil came over to drop off some luggage. As Dana is a masseuse, we had discussed doing exchanges the night before. Massages got the day off to a great start, and set the tone for a warm, physical connection that grew as the weekend went on. Arm in arm with Dana, we strolled down las Ramblas, admired a few Gaudi facades, and found a laneway terrasse for lunch.

There has been a municipal crackdown on the buskers, so they still play – but only very short sets before moving on. Barcelona's al …

Swing in San Sebastian 2017/10/15

One of the things I love about swing is the way it brings a room or a town square to life. It's ephemeral yet timeless, summoning up a visual feast of vintage style and conviviality. Grand ballrooms magically recall their heyday with big bands and swirling dancers. Sweet music and dancers animate the sun-dappled town squares, to the delight of the locals. At Donosti Belle, we danced in the Miramar summer palace and the Town Hall, both overlooking the sea. The spectacle of our Boulevard dance was enjoyed by a large crowd of all ages. 

This swing festival in Basque Spain offered many more beautiful moments that I don't want to forget: walking up Mount Guell with Manuel from Zurich, a swim in gorgeous la Concha bay. Pinxtos (tapas) and txacoli (local white wine) with Celia, Donghoon and other dancers. Cheap pizza and Aperols with Diego. Stories of the very charming and worldly Camino pilgrim, Lisa, 300km into her journey. The warm hospitality of our gracious American-Spanish host…

Haywire host calls cops 2017/10/12 Basque apple town

On my first day in Errezil, the other guest was complaining that her key was not working. A few days later it was discovered that the lock had been forced... an attempted break in. The host had a visit from the police and his locks replaced. I was given a new key. On my fifth night of my stay in this idyllic apple town, my host R. knocked on my bedroom door, two hours after I had said 'Buenas noches'. When I answered, he walked into my room, turned on the light and waved a form at me demanding to have my passport details on the spot. The form was in Spanish, with acronyms I didn't understand.

I said this is very rude. He said the police had asked him to fill in the form and he had forgotten to ask me earlier. When I said it's 11PM at night, I'll do it tomorrow, he got very belligerent and threatened to call the police, taking out his phone. I asked him to leave me in peace in my room, but he wouldn't let it go. Finally, I said 'come back in 10 minutes and…

Apple cider idyll 2017/10/10 Euskadi/Basque

The fields opposite are so steep, the scene is like a picture on a wall, with miniature figures rimmed with sunlight, dripping long shadows down a green canvas. A slender, sparkling stream lined with small trees snakes through valley floor. In the distance, the people move through gardens and fields, harvesting veggies, silage and apples. Far below my balcony, a man is cutting emerald green grass with a hand plough, trailed by his canine companion. In a big field, a donkey brays forlornly, his own long shadow his only company. Three children run laughing through the patchwork of lush pasture and apple orchards. In this beautiful season on this beautiful day Errezil looks like a perfect rural dream. But conditions change quickly in this mountain place... this crystal clear panorama emerged from a cold morning blanket of opaque, grey fog. Like the village people, my woolly brethren the sheep stare unabashedly at me as I walk by on my first day.

Last night I had the good luck to attend…

Beggars 2017/10/03 Pamplona, Spain

It pains me that four of the nine black people I've seen here in Navarra are are beggars. Today I bought shampoo from a friendly black lady in the market. But at two of the four market gates, a young fit black man stands, with a cup in hand, eyeing passers by. Of course I get the full eyeball, up down. Same thing at the supermarket across the road. Black people are a highly visible, small minority here, so there is that moment of recognition and then a very uncomfortable moment. I would like to feel solidarity, warmth. Instead as they stare, I feel harassed... the guilting of a beggar, plus an undertone of sexual harassment. One of the beggars is more polite... smiles more, stares less... but I still want to avoid him. Passing them, I feel anger, fear, contempt. Two kinds of fear... of the beggar, and of the racism that feeds off their image. I don't choose to feel this way. Without wanting to blame the victim, I'm ashamed of how they inhabit a negative stereotype, perpet…

Rios de Navarra 2017/02/10 Pamplona/Iruna

After a few days hermiting indoors, working on tour logistics, I was due for an outing, a day of tourism and sunshine. The Camino de Santiago beckoned, but I decided not to risk foot pain and bedbugs on this dance tour! And while I eyed the canoeists with envy, no canoe was available. Finally, I found an affordable local bike rental. Everything is near here... it's a small town with a great design. I've never seen a town map with so much public green space, except maybe Geneva. Most of the river bank is a public park, part of a 33km nature corridor on the river connecting several local towns. Development of the riverbank is also naturally constrained by steep cliffs running along one side for several kilometres. Pamplona is at the top of this cliff, with parks and city walls offering expansive views over suburbs and pine forested hills.

In medieval times, Pamplona was the capital of the Kingdom of Navarra, a region that still enjoys some autonomy to this day. The town's m…