Birthday dance

It’s my birthday! Midweek birthdays tend to be prosaic, so for fun I thought I’d share the tango clip from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (one of that movie’s redeeming scenes) and a piece I wrote years ago on salsa dancing. No, salsa is not tango, but for me as a wallflower, Pelagia’s tango captures the same exuberance I’ve loved about salsa.

What does it mean to Be Sexy?

Sexiness, to me, has always been about feeling comfortable in my own skin—about taking risks, and doing what both thrills and scares me. I’ve always admired people with passion for what they do, no matter what it is, because the joy they radiate in doing it is contagious. Their enthusiasm fuels my curiosity and inspires me to pursue what fascinates me.

Salsa has intrigued me ever since I took a Latin American music course at UCLA, but I’d never considered myself much of a dancer, mostly because I’d long felt too shy and embarrassed to try it. Self-consciousness would freeze me, and I’d cringe at the mere mention of parties and clubs. Eventually I got into the habit of saying I just wasn’t into dancing, but secretly, some part of me longed to feel the same ease and abandon I’d witnessed in great dancers. That part of me wanted to lose myself in the music and just dance for sheer joy, and somehow the rhythms of salsa crashed through those walls of reserve and fed right into that longing. I vowed then that someday I’d take salsa dance lessons.

I didn’t feel quite ready—and, in fact, didn’t have the chance—to realize that goal, though, until I found a job and moved to the Bay Area last summer. Several months before that, I’d returned from a two-year stint teaching English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine, an experience which, among other things, tested me dearly but also taught me a lot about myself. I found myself overcoming challenges that made me think, “If I can do that, maybe I can do this,” and with those experiences I think I acquired the strength and confidence that have allowed me to explore facets of life I’d previously thought I couldn’t handle. So when I read about the salsa classes Vera was giving at the College of San Mateo and Redwood Shores this fall, I signed up right away.

Vera’s salsa classes were the first I’d ever taken, as well as the first dance instruction I’d ever had. I came away from the first class exhilarated, and though I’m not a great dancer by any means, still I’ve enjoyed those moments when I can relax in my partner’s arms and follow the rhythm without worrying about every step. And I love the searing joy I feel at watching skilled salsa dancers who love the art form and just look like they’re having a great time. To me, the music and the dance seem infused with all the exuberance I feel for what makes life worth living, and I find that incredibly alluring. Nothing is sexier than the passion, the confidence and pure joy so rife in salsa.

(first published at

Piano by the sea

There’s a guy—an artist, a pianist—by the fitting name of Mauro Ffortissimo who, with the help of some friends, recently rolled out an aging baby grand piano onto the bluffs of Half Moon Bay, California, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, so that during the day passersby might plink away at the keys. But during the past few successive sundowns, he’s sat down to play a half-hour recital of Chopin, Debussy, and Schumann—partly for pure pleasure, but also to demo how exposure to sun, wind, and fog is rapidly changing the way the piano plays the same pieces.

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He has no permit, so city officials have told him the piano has to clear out by Thursday (Valentine’s Day). But what a cool moment, right? Imagine bundling up, mug of hot toddy in hand, and listening to this unexpected and yet wonderful bit of whimsy as the sun sets and waves roll ashore.

Read more at SFGate and UPI.

(photos by Jessica Olthof for the San Francisco Chronicle)

Audioslave melancholy

There’s a side of me that loves listening to Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell, and then there’s the side of me that just digs “Like a Stone” by Audioslave. Whenever I hear it on the local alternative station, I react to it the in the same visceral way I do whenever Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” comes on. The song smolders with melancholy and a brooding anguish.

It’s like you don’t even have to know exactly what Chris Cornell’s singing, either. You can just kinda unfocus and grind along, then rock out in your head to the guitar solos.

Joshua Bell does the Four Seasons

One of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen was Joshua Bell performing live in recital. One year he appeared at U.C. Berkeley’s Cal Performances, and I decided to treat my mom to the event for her birthday.

At first she hesitated to go. “I don’t know anything about classical music,” she said. “I wouldn’t really know what’s going on.”

“You don’t have to know everything about the music to appreciate it,” I replied. “Of course it helps to know some vocab so you know how to talk about what you appreciate in the music, but ultimately what matters is your visceral response to what you’re hearing.”

In the end, despite her trepidation, we went—and as Bell performed in a pool of light on the darkened stage, I glanced sideways at my mother and smiled. She looked mesmerized.

“So what’d you think?” I asked her afterward.

“Oh! Wow,” she responded, shaking her head. “It was like he was making love to that violin.”

This video of Bell performing the third movement (“Presto”) of Summer from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields isn’t much like what transfixed my mama that day, but the intensity of it is, in my opinion, equally amazing.

(via SonyMasterworksVEVO)

P.S. Remember the 2007 story of Joshua Bell busking in a D.C. metro that won a Pulitzer for The Washington Post? One key excerpt from the article: “If we can’t take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that—then what else are we missing?”

Flashback ’90s

Do you remember the first time someone or something made you feel old? For me, it wasn’t my first gray hair but this one afternoon when I was rockin’ out to Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” while driving home from work. I was feelin’ good, the way you feel when a favorite old song comes on the radio, until I realized that I am now older than Kurt Cobain was when he died. Great.

Same disbelief happens to me when ’90s flashback lunch hour comes on the local alternative rock station. “Flashback” lunch? The ’90s?! What. But evidently I’m in denial.


(meme via Joanna Goddard/Pinterest)

Miloš is coming back to the Bay Area!

I just about gasped when I saw Cal Performances post a preview on its Facebook page yesterday afternoon that Miloš Karadaglić is scheduled to perform in February 2013 as part of the Koret Recital Series. So excited he’s heading back to the bay!

Check out the cover art for his new album, Latino, due out this summer. [Update: It looks like the new album has been renamed, to Pasión.]

Listening to Spanish guitar music just thrills me, so I can hardly wait to listen to Miloš’s new album. And hello being able to watch and listen to him perform live! That’ll be so awesome. His debut album, Mediterraneo, was one of the best-selling classical discs of 2011, according to Cal Perfs. It’s so exciting to witness a new star emerge on the scene. We will definitely be hearing more from this guy.

Here’s a clip of him playing “Asturias,” just to whet your appetite.

And listen to him in recital (below) at the Savannah Music Festival earlier this year, courtesy of NPR Music, which also hosted him in a Tiny Desk Concert in June 2011.

(top: Miloš Karadaglić Facebook page; bottom: NPR Music)

Update: Cover art for Pasión.

This generation’s break-up songs

In my teen years, the break-up song of choice was R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts.” Which, when you think about it, is really a wallow-in-your-misery kind of song, an in-the-middle-of-it kind of pain. But these days the break-up banner seems to be shared by two songs, which I’ll admit I like to belt out in the privacy of my car.

“Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye feat. Kimbra

“Someone Like You” by Adele

Judging from clips I saw of Gotye’s set at Coachella this past weekend, though, other peeps have no problem singing along in public—the refrain becomes an anthem. It’s pretty special when an artist can articulate unspoken emotions that people immediately identify with. I like, too, that both musicians sing it from the perspective that time affords. Plus I like that with Gotye and Kimbra you hear the other side of story, which you never really do in real life.