Story Time with Susie – The Twerk Class that had me Scared Poopless

We we’re driving from the LAX airport to our AirBnB, and Kellie, Starr, and Jamie had just grabbed their spot for the pop up class with Aliya Janell that they just saw come across their Instagram feed. “Susie, are you gunna do it?” they asked. I had a long pause. I had no intention of taking a class with Aliya Janell. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against her; I’m actually mesmerized by her choreo. But the thought of taking her class scared the crap out of me. 

If you’re not familiar with Aliya Janell, she’s known for more of a swaggy, “racket heels” style of choreography, which most of her routines involve twerking to songs I would never normally listen to. Needless to say, the thought of taking a class with her made me very uncomfortable because of the explicit nature of the music as well as some of the movement.

But the ladies gave me a “Come on, you’ve got this!” And because I knew I went to LA with the intention of putting myself in environments that would challenge me and inspire growth, I signed up for the class before I could talk myself out of it. 

Two days later: It’s class day. At that point I was feeling mostly excitement, because I simply love dance and learning choreography. The one thing I was nervous about was the possibility of having to do splits, cause I’ve seen Aliya Janell incorporate splits and sometimes twerking while in the split into most of her routines. I currently do not have that flexibility, so I was a little concerned that it would impact my overall experience and enjoyment of the class.

We get to the studio with our excited and anxious energy, and we talked to a few other dancers who shared the same feelings. But as soon as Aliya Janell started talking, I knew this was going to be one of the best dance class experiences I’d ever had. She knew exactly how to speak to the entire room, while at the same time, making it feel like she was speaking directly to your soul. I was inspired and encouraged to let go, try something new, and embrace whatever the heck was about to happen over the next two hours. 

I learned the choreo, and I was right insofar as it definitely being out of my usual comfort zone. And to be honest, I looked a bit of a hot mess, especially during the twerking parts. But I did it, and that’s literally all that mattered to me.

I share all of this with you, cause I know that we’ve all been there, whether with dance or another potential passion. We see something that excites us and lights us up on the inside, but we shut down the possibility of even trying it because we’re scared; Scared we’re gunna suck, look dumb, fall down, and over all “fail.”

But I’m here to tell you to follow your fears, which was a concept I first heard of from the incredibly intelligent Marie Forleo. Of course, I’m not talking about the fears that keep you alive, such as a fear of jumping off a cliff with no protective gear. Those fears are important; hold onto those with dear life.

I’m talking about those times where you see someone killing it in karaoke, and you can’t help but light up and become emotionally invested when you watch. You can feel that small voice within you, telling you to go up and sing your heart out. But here comes along that pesky fear yelling at you that “you suck” or that “no one is going to want to listen to you.”

It’s ok to recognize that you’re afraid. I want you to follow that fear. Cause I can almost guarantee you that whatever your’re afraid of has no real impact in the grand scheme of it. It’s one of those things where you look back ten year’s later and think to yourself, “Man, I really wish I would have just gotten on that karaoke stage… what’s the worst that could have happened?” All that does is leave you with a bunch of ‘what if’s…”

That doesn’t need to be your story. You do not need to look back and think “What if I would have just taken a chance and tried that paint class? I wonder where I’d be.” Or “Ugh, I wish I would have started going to the gym when I was younger.” If you have something that you’re excited about trying but afraid to even dip your toes in, I encourage you to GO FOR IT! What is the worse that can happen?

Story Time with Rishone – Live at your own Pace

The 3rd grade Spelling Test that reinforced this life concept.

I was 7 years old in the 3rd grade at Barracks Road Primary School. It was spelling test day, which is usually a Friday, so I sat down in the front row of the right side of the room, like I always do, in my Khaki colored uniform, epaulets, on my shirt, and my polished black shoes slightly nervous but ready to take this end of the week test.

The test had two parts. The first was 10 words with 2 bonus words that the teacher would say/pronounce out loud, and we would have to spell it out in cursive on our loose leaf paper.  The second half of the test was another 10 words that we had to match with the correct definition by drawing a line from the word to the definition.  

I had studied extremely hard the entire week, but I still knew it would be a challenge, because our teacher would always throw a few tricky words in the spelling portion and the matching portion of the test. So I remember my grandmother telling me to take my time and sound out the words while I studied on the red veranda facing the breadfruit tree down the dirt road hill in the yard.  

As quickly as the first part of the test was completed, one of the students completed the second half in less than 7 minutes. He was considered to be the prefect of my grade level – that is a student that averages perfect or almost perfect grades on every test and is awarded that position by the teachers/staff of his grade level. When I saw that he completed his test so quickly, it made me incredibly nervous. It was like the room started to shrink and droplets of sweat started to form on the bridge of my nose. 

Six other students turn their test in after the prefect did just 3 minutes later. I watched them all individually walk from their seat to the teacher’s desk, hand her their test, and walk out the door. 

I was only on word 3 when that happened. I started to think wait, “Am I slow; why are they completing the test so quickly?” I consider myself a really great speller and word-smith. So I looked down at my paper and started to work even harder. I completed about 4 more matches quickly after that, because the words/definitions jumped out at me. Then the majority of the class started to get up and turn their test in. 

At this moment I had 2 more words to match with 25 minutes left in the class. There was only 3 of us left. Within another 6 minutes it was just me sitting in the corner trying to figure out the last 2 words. At that point, I had a nervous habit of biting into my number 2 pencils and with 15 minutes left, there were teeth Mark’s from just above the led of the pencil to the metal casing of the off red eraser top.  

I took deep breaths often, l wiped the sweat off of the bridge of my nose, I looked around the empty room a few times and looked out side the door where kids were already playing and getting ready for the evening dismissal. Then I looked at the teacher, who then directed me to pay attention to my test. So I looked down one more time in intense focus, and I figured out one of the 2 words which then gave me the answer to the final word by a process of elimination. I still had 5 minutes left so even though I was finished with the test, I would always review my answers. 

I went through all the words I spelled one after the other carefully to ensure I spelled them correctly. Doing that made me smile because spelling was my strong point, and I knew I got them all correct. Then I reviewed the matching section and recognize that one word was incorrect, and I corrected it by finding the right definition while recognizing that the definition belonged to another word. I was super happy that I caught it, because with 1 minute left, I walked up to the teacher confidently with my test confidently and turned it in. She joked and said, “Rishone, you do know there is a minute left. Are you sure you got them all right?” I replied, “Yes, Miss Smith!” with my big smile on my face. 

Monday afternoon came after the weekend, and the teacher started to hand back the graded spelling/definition test. To my surprise she announces that I had the highest score on the test beating out the prefect who misspelled 1 of the bonus words. Basically I got a 120/100. I was floored with excitement and the kids looked at me with amazement because normally the person who was left behind struggling would get the worst grade on the test. 

At that moment, I felt a moment of confidence in myself. There were so many times during the test while others were turning in their test that I could have made errors, because I was questioning how they finished so quickly, and I was struggling through the definitions. I mean the prefect was expected to finish quickly, but I was the last one in the room sweating and making sure I did my best, and because I focused on me, I was happy. 

Fast forward to 30 years later, I am still the same. I have my Biology degree and my Engineering degree, but I choose to be an entrepreneur that invests in my passions of the culinary arts and dance. There are so many of my peers that are practicing Physicians, Veterinarians, Scientists, Chiropractors, Physical Therapist, high powered Lawyers, Architects, Physician Assistant, Nurses, Accountants, and even manage to be parents of a few children. I mean, even my first girlfriend has 3 kids, one of which is a teenager. 

I could have been any of those things, but I learned when I was 7 that it’s perfectly fine to live life at my own pace, because I can be just as successful as someone else who finished before I did. What really matters is that I focus on what I’m doing. Everyone has the same life to live with varied amount of time to live it. We all learn differently and take tests differently, so don’t worry about this person or that person. Comparing yourself to your peers can distract you from achieving your own happiness or your definition of success. 

Life is a marathon

Fear either inspires or debilitates us

Fear dictates our actions and most of the time, our unconscious inaction/reaction. Fear could have crippled me from going after my goals, but instead it pushes me to face them head on. Some would say that is courageous, but for me every time I conquer a fear, it liberates and intensifies the belief in myself. 

The Back Story

I am a natural short distance runner. At least that’s what I told myself, because I was good at it. At the age of 11, I was of of the top 100 meter runner for my track team at Cornwall College in Montego Bay, Jamaica. I remember winning medals upon medals for being speedy. Then one track meet, I filled in for a long distance runner due to some absences and an injury.

I ran the 4×4 relay for the first time in my life, and with only 100 meters to go, the same 100 meter I’ve ran a thousand times, my entire lower body went through muscle spasms that caused me to collapse to the track in the agony of pain. Normally I would finish my short distance races and then listen for the other runners to finish after me, but that day I watched the other runners zoom pass me as I tried to peel myself off the track to complete the race. Due to that horrific, embarrassing experience, I labeled myself as someone that would never be a long distance runner, and I believed that my entire life up until this past weekend.

Breaking My Own Label

I can boldly declare that I conquered this fear/label to redeem myself after 26 years by running the Buffalo Marathon on May 26th 2019. I did it as a celebration of my birthday and as proof that not even the labels I place on my self are true. It proved that I can do anything I train and/or prepare for. A marathon is quite to monster to stand up to, but I was brave. 

If you are not familiar with how long a marathon is, it is 26.2 miles. When I explained how long that was last Tuesday during an open circle discussing what fear each person wanted to overcome, Crystal Frye commented comparatively by saying, “26.2 miles is a long drive.” 

She is correct; It is a distance in which you cannot fake or pretend to run. So once I decided to do it, no matter how much feared played apart in my decision, I knew I had to take it seriously.   

The Projectors

When I shared that I wanted to run a Marathon, a few friends thought I was crazy. They gave me the look. The look that says you go ahead, I want no parts of that. Others that do run told me to run the half, because the full may be too much for a first timer. Which may have had some truth to it, but they had never ran a marathon before so they were speaking from a limited experience and were unintentionally projecting their fears on to what I wanted to accomplish. So I had to find other sources of inspiration. 

Building my Belief

I trained for eight months. A couple months included training for the Turkey Trot which is an 8K. Susie and I ran every now and then to train for it. We completed it at about a 10 minute pace. After we completed that race, we talked about running a Marathon and what it would be like to train for it. We went back and forth with the idea until we decided to go through with in December. We still didn’t buy the tickets till the beginning of February. Up until then, we were training but not as hard as we should. 

Stepping Up The Training

After we made the purchase, I switched gears. There was no more room to play with the idea, because I knew what was at steak. I started doing research, planning my miles per week, scheduling long runs, short runs, recovery runs, planning what food to eat, planning my active recovery off days, how I would treat my days I teach classes, daily calisthenics, daily stretching, what my rest schedule would be, scheduling weekly spin classes, yoga classes, additional stretch sessions, post run icing sessions, and all the things I needed to get my body ready for the stress 26.2 miles brings. 

Going Past My Belief Limitation 

Above all the training, I knew had to believe that I could run a Marathon. I spent months watching training videos from Marathon runners on YouTube, but if there is one thing I learned over my years as a adult is that if your limitation is a Marathon, then it becomes your mountain top, and you prepare with that mountain top in mind which, in turn, limits your potential. Therefore, I started researching Ultra Marathons. I was blown away that someone could run 100 miles in 36 hours. Now that takes grit and a whole new level of training. So I compared the training regiment of a Marathon runner and an ultra Marathon runner. I realized the way they spoke about limitations were different. Their discipline to train was different. The way they spoke about life was different. That created a major shift in my goal setting for training, and it made my belief in my self even stronger using the concepts of a Ultra Marathon Runner instead of a Marathon runner. 

The Week Before the Marathon 

Fast forward to the week before race day. I reached some amazing peaks during my training. However, due to so much activity, the last month of my training was not as much as I would like. I was sick for about 3 weeks, and then when I finally started to feel better, there was only 11 days left till the race. 

I was extremely nervous at this point, and my fear of getting injured or worse, collapsing, started to set in. So I did what I always do when I start to distract or overwhelm myself from achieving my goals. I began training again. Calisthenics during the mornings and running during the evenings after choreographing and/or cooking during the day. Most of all, it reminded of who I am and I started to regain the trust in all the work I put in the previous 4 months. Finally, I remembered that I ran 18 miles during the peak of my training. That was something I had never done before. So if anything, I knew that I could get through 18 miles with no issues.

The Failure that Could Have made me Not Run the Marathon

The Sunday before the race, I set out to run 20 miles. It started out as a cool day which fooled me. I decide to run between 1pm and 5pm. The temperature jumped from 70 degrees to almost 90 degrees during my run. At mile 7, I realized I had never felt this hot in my life, and as I got to mile 9, I knew I had to stop soon to be safe. I got to mile 10 and stopped running and walked about another 1/4 of mile to make sure it wasn’t due to a lack of training. Then I decided to call my friend Susie to come and get me. As much as I wanted to run 20 miles the week before the race, I knew staying alive was more important. 

The Last Week Before The Day Of

I rested from additional training that week but still did things that kept me sharp for the Marathon. On the evening before the Marathon I had a 1.5 hour ballroom lesson scheduled with two couples. After I completed the lesson, we got some additional things for the race and completed our final preparation for the race the next morning. Unfortunately, due to adrenaline and anticipation of the race, I did not fall asleep till 3:30am, and my alarm was set to wake me up at 4:45am. So I got 1 hour and 15 minutes of sleep. 

I woke up from my alarm on race day with pure adrenaline. I told myself that I got enough sleep, and I was ready to get through this race. We got ready and set out to downtown Buffalo to finish what we signed up for. 

Race Day And The First 13.1 Miles

The race started at exactly 6:30am. The first two miles are always the worst and on race day it was no different. My mind was running a million miles a minute, I was trying to catch my rhythm, I was monitoring my breathing, and listening close to my body. I started to feel like myself by mile 3. 

I ran the next 10.1 miles with ease but you quickly realized that the real race starts after the half marathon or 13.1 miles is completed. You hear the celebration of those completing the half marathon while you are re-directed to the adjacent street to start the completion of the full marathon.

The Noticeable Difference In The Second Half Of The Race

My experience was completely different for the final 13.1 miles. During the half Marathon, you were running with so many people side by side. After the half Marathon, it was you and a few others far ahead of you or behind you. The streets were now narrowed by orange cones, cars could now drive by, the sun was now up, it was warmer, more people were walking rather than running, and the support on the side of the routes were less and far in between. That’s when I realized that this was a different race, but because I trained for it, I had the mindset that nothing would stop me from completing the race. 

The Struggle

I kept my pace consistent until about mile 17. I noticed I started to slow down a bit, but I was convinced that I was still good. I ran 2 more miles to get to mile 19 when the incline in the roads changed, and my feet felt like they were lava. At that point, I decided to walk the inclines and run the flats. A plan that worked for the next 6 miles. 

The Calvary And Emotional Finish

To my surprise, Susie waited and joined me on mile 23.5 to help me finish the race. At that point I was overwhelmed with emotion, because I had been struggling with my feet for more than a few miles and was asking God for some divine inspiration. With her help, I walked a little faster, ran a little more and finally ran the last 0.6 miles of the race to complete my first Marathon ever. 

My Reflection on the Race as it Compares to Life

This experience has taught me so many valuable life lessons. The first lesson is that we can all do anything we set our mind to. No matter how far fetched it seems, there is always a way if you are willing to do the work. The second lesson is our mind and bodies are remarkable, resilient entities when you feed them the right nutrients and gradually train then past your existing limitations. The third lesson is that running a Marathon is similar to life. When you make a decision to do something that not many has done or may seem crazy, you have to be mentally tough to not give up. The support will not be as plenty, the roads will be narrower, others will give up, others will convince you to slow down, but the main thing to do is to remember the goal you set out to achieve, listen to inner warrior, and fight through all the negativity that may come from the outside or the inside to finish for you. Most importantly, if you are a friend, don’t wait for your friend to get to the finish line; Find them during the struggle and encourage them through your actions to complete what they set out to do. That’s what the Buffalo Marathon has taught me, and I have a medal now that proves that I can do anything including dispelling my own label that I once placed on my abilities.  

My Weekend with Ms. Jackson – The Belief Tug of War (Part 2)

The Belief Tug of War – By Rishone Todd

Trying something new on any level presents a hurdle never faced before and the fear of failure has the power to cripple the process of learning about yourself in a new light. For me, taking classes from choreographers/dancers that you normally see on TV or Youtube is my own challenge that I am working through. The speed at which they teach is at a different level, which is a challenge for any dancer, but for me specifically it has been a working progress to get where I am today. Don’t get me wrong, I do very well at these workshops in my own right, but at times I fall short of nailing the whole routine, and I am hard on myself the rest of the class.

In general, I know I need more exposure of being a student in master level classes to become better at processing the speed of detailed visual information. Throughout those classes, there is always an internal conversation that takes place that no one really documents, but I wanted to give you an inside look as well as some encouragement through my transparency of what I go through when trying something challenging that has to do with a new dance experience. The workshop hosted by Janet Jackson’s dancers was a one of those internal conversations that was so loud with nervousness and temporary disbelief that I had to tell it to shut the hell up so I could step the hell up.

Within all the internal excitement of the workshop hosted by the State of the World tour dancers Dominique Battiste, Denzel Chisolm, and Allison Buczkowski, there was an initial reservation that made me question if I had the processing speed or even the necessary skills to keep up with these precision, based musical athletes. Now I am sure I didn’t lose years of skills gained through dancing hip hop, but during that moment, I questioned everything due to the caliber of professional dancers that were in the building. I believe this happens on some level for those who also want to try something new or is a little out of practice with a passion they once excelled at.

The day of the workshop gave me this adrenaline rush that can be compared to the first climb on a roller coaster before the gravity defying drop. During this climb or build up before the start of the actual classes, I convinced myself to back out many times up until I realize I paid the $45 admission fee to take all three classes. Therefore, I was strapped in till the end of all three classes. Knowing that, there was still a scapegoat to get my money back and just watch, but I mentally convinced myself that I needed these classes to grow. I yelled countless profanities inside my head as the climb before the drop reached the pinnacle of the first class.

As soon as Dom entered the room, I remembered why I love and seek the challenge to learn from professionals. I was in her exact position a day before teaching the kids one of my newest routines, so it gave me another reason why I should and needed to be there. Momentarily all my fear transformed into complete appreciation as she addressed us all after stretching. Her teaching style and choreography was everything I anticipated. That theme extended throughout the night with each class.

However, during each class I had multiple moments that made me want to give up, but I kept countering that feeling by giving myself credit each time I nailed a series of eight counts. Each class had about 8-10 eight counts of intricate moves and seamless transitions. I came extremely close to executing an entire routine in one class but by not getting to that desired accomplishment, I knew I had room to grow. By the end of the classes I accomplished enough small victories in each class to keep me believing that I do have a gift after all. Of course, I used other methods of freestyling in between choreography to increase my confidence and working on the choreography while other groups were executing it for the choreographers. It was an experience that I will never forget; it helped me to realize I can never be comfortable or complacent when it comes to improving.

Additionally, if I continued to focus on biggest challenges as a dancer, I would not have showed up to the workshop, but my belief in myself, my trust in the process, my love for dance, and not being too hard on myself gave me the courage to not only show up but I also give myself the opportunity to learn from 3 amazing choreographers. I entered the workshop with some internal battles, but with a positive attitude and a open-minded approach, I left with the inspiration to work harder.

I have had so many meaningful conversations with individuals from all different age groups that are looking to get into dance but are scared they may not be good at it. Some say they have two left feet, some claim dance was something they did as a child but not as an adult, some say there is no time, and some say they just dance at home most of the time. However, they all agree that it would be great to do the things they see on those YouTube videos out in the LA scene.

With each conversation I can feel the eagerness and genuine desire to learn hip hop from each individual but the fear of stepping into a class room is more potent than the desire to try something new. Trust me, as you can tell from my experience above, I go through those same thought processes myself. Whether you are a trained dancer of a different genre, a freestyler at home, a dancer that grew up dancing but stopped after you left your old studio, or even someone looking to get into dance for the first time, give yourself the opportunity to learn. Focus on learning and less on perfection, because perfection has the power to stop your progress before you even start.

For example: The process of learning how to walk took many steps (pun intended) and failed attempts that ended on my butt. However, we didn’t just give up when we fell the first time. We kept going until walking became more and more natural. I use that same mindset when learning choreography from someone new or even someone who is on a different level than I am. Falling multiple times allowed you to strengthen the muscles in your legs, gain the motor skills necessary for each step, and visual connect what you want to do physically in your mind before walking on your own without needing the help of furniture to get around the house. We often forget that life is a continuous learning process and if you have parents/teachers/mentors and experience to help you in time you can walk, run or even dance.

From my 13 years of teaching experience, people sometimes want to be successful on their first attempt at anything new, especially dance. I know I have had my fair share of moments with unrealistically high expectations that proved repeatedly to be the wrong approach. The reality is that it is extremely rare to try something that is a learned skill and master it on the first attempt especially when your body does not move like that normally. My relationship with improving the visual processing speed of learning, executing, and performing choreography is an ongoing process that will take me many more learning experiences to improve upon. I have accepted that some will be good experiences and others will be experiences I need to work harder at, but if I stay committed to the process and expose myself to plenty of opportunities, I know the results will eventually reflect the work I put in.

The New Year is right around the corner, and if there is a belief tug of war inside of you that is holding you back from trying something new, then it’s time to win that battle with yourself. If taking some time off has made you not as sharp as you once were, just know that enough exposures to that very thing you love can build your skills back up to where they were. I am saying this because it is time for you to make that decision internally for your own happiness. You have someone inside of you that wants to learn and grow. Give yourself credit for all the amazing things you can do. If you need to yell a few profanities to get out of your own way at times, then do that so you can give yourself the permission to grow. Who knows what you are going to achieve when you do that. I know it has helped me grow into the dancer I am now, and it is allowing me to grow even further as I continue with my passion of dance as well as other areas of my life. One of my favorite quotes that I will bring into 2018 is by Fred DeVito that puts it all into perspective is that, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

My Weekend with Ms. Jackson – A Shared Experience (Part 1)

My Weekend with Janet Jackson and Her State of the World Dancers.

The Anticipation:

As a Hip Hop dancer who loves to learn, I often watch YouTube videos of classes with these amazing dancers that you wish you could see or take a class with in person. Even if you are not a dancer, these videos have a talent level that will end up distracting you from your reality for at least 30 minutes as soon as you click on the first one. Having Janet Jackson’s dancers in town and 3 of them teaching a workshop hosted at the Future Dance Center (FDC) created this feeling inside me that I felt I’ve been holding on to since the first time I realized Michael Jackson had a Sister that is just as talented as he is. It was even more special to know one of the dancers received their dance education at the FDC in Hamburg before solidifying a dance career in Los Angeles. To bluntly put it, I was about to live out a dream that I never realized would happen in my life time.

Learning from Allison Buczkowski and Her Talented Friends:

On Friday November 3, 2017, the day before the concert, Susie K and I were nervous but excited to meet as well as take classes from Janet’s dancers. Most importantly, we were pumped to support the hometown talent, Allison Claire Buczkhowski as was performing in Buffalo for the first time since she left for LA. She has without a doubt earned her spot to dance alongside Janet, and we wanted to show her some individual love. Susie and I have been confined to teaching and other responsibilities, so it has been a challenge to invest in taking classes more regularly. We were more than ready to get to Future Dance Center to finally get some class time in with Janet’s Team.

Whenever there is a buzz about famous choreographers coming to the studio, there is this live energy that you can feel when you walk through the doors of FDC. Susie and I walked in and were met by two of our regular clients Cynthia Winnie and her daughter Crystal. Then we were surprised by the Bollywood dancer Gaitrie Devi who was also surprised to see us. She happens to be a huge Janet Jackson fan as she explained her childhood of studying Janet Jackson’s moves from her music videos. She also longed for the experience of being a student for a few hours with quality professionals to learn from.  This made it a unified experience for 5 individuals that appreciated talent and a well needed challenge.

We paid the price of admission, signed in, and proceeded to enter the room in which the channel 2 news camera was already taking footage of the eventful evening. We were surrounded by young dancers from the host studio and others from all around Western New York. It was a beautiful moment to witness as we waited in excitement for the first instructor to appear. I caught a glimpse of a few of Janet’s dancers and Janet’s longtime head choreographer Gil DulDulao who I took a workshop from about 2 years back.

The first instructor Dominique Battiste, aka Dom, entered the class room through the teacher’s lounge with confidence, bleach blond hair, comfortable fitting sweats, and an open focus. We all cheered with a sense of readiness as the classes began. She gave us a needed stretch to warm up our muscles and then jumped right into her choreography. She presented her movement with patience and care but was still able to move at a pace we had to adjust to. Her movement embodied the song of choice, ‘Needed me’ by Rihanna, and her musicality was just on a different level. We all enjoyed her style of teaching, and she proved to be everything we signed up for. Of all the classes, I came closest to being comfortable with absorbing all the material she presented for the first class. Regardless of being out of practice with my process, I was just like a kid excited about dance again for the first time in a long time. After she taught and she gave us plenty of opportunity to execute the routine, she blessed us with a performance with the other tour dancers that included the young YouTube dance phenoms Taylor Hatalla and Kyndall Harris.  Then she performed a solo that displayed her elite control and artistry.

Our second class with taught by Denzel Chisolm. He had a shy, quiet personality that you would not expect from his bold movement and good looks. His choreography material was a different blend of styles within the Hip Hop genre. Throughout his class, one thing remained consistent; his musicality was just on a different level unlike any that we have been exposed to in a while. I still struggled through a few of the movements in his class, but I loved his class the most because it had a dancehall vibe that I could feel. Plus the visuals he created between movements were just beautiful to watch when executed correctly. It was a free flowing conversation that had moments where each person could freely express themselves through the movement. The stories he told made the ladies even more attentive than they were before. He too ended the class with a group performance with his tour mates and solo performance that had us in awe.

I have taken a class with Allison Buczkowski before and was also lucky to watch a class of hers recently so I was familiar with her style of movement. It always has an energetic quality with explicit swag and unearthly musicality. She definitely ended the night with a bang as we all were reminded of how talented she is as a dancer/choreographer. She danced ever beat as if it is her last, and she demanded the same from each person in the room. I loved her swag and enjoyed her combination of old and new school grooves that she openly said was corny but decided to bring it back anyway. Again like the previous classes I have experienced, she gave us ample opportunity to get comfortable with the movement through grouping and individual stand outs, but what made every routine they presented for the 3 hours live was when the dance family from the tour took center stage to dance together. Each time they danced together you felt it, and Allison’s choreography just filled the room with the energy that made the evening worth every penny. Of course the group just elevated her choreography when they performed it, but Allison blessed us with a solo performance that made us all proud to see one of our own living her dream. That moment was so special as we cheered her on at the end. Her mother was so proud that it brought tears to her eyes.

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The night ended the way it began, anticipating the Janet Jackson’s concert but enjoying her State of The World tour dancers. We took pictures with almost all the dancers, genuinely thanked them for taking the time to dance with us for 3 hours, and let them know how excited we were to see them Saturday night on stage dancing with Janet at the KeyBank Center.

My date with Ms. Jackson

On Saturday November 4th 2017, I stood there in awe, section 119, row 8, seat 10 as my friend Dawn of 10 years joined me to her feet to welcome a legend on to her platform. The pre-show, throw-back hip hop came to an abrupt silence, and the lights in the arena dimmed so low that only the stage was glowing as the main existing source of lighting. Cell phones lit up immediately, and the 3 oversized projector screens that sectioned the stage into thirds started recapping the state of the world as it pertains to natural disasters, terrorism, poverty stricken countries, flared war relations between nations, refugee/immigration challenges, and the blatant injustice people of color face as citizens of the United States. I remember thinking, “I’m surrounded by so many different races in this section.” And looking around the entire arena there were numerous representatives from all different races standing in silence as these images flashed across the screen. I thought again to myself,” Does everyone around me agree with the narrative/images Janet is starting the show with?” Then that thought was immediately interrupted by Janet’s silhouette behind the screen on stage left. I immediately yelled, “Let’s Go!” my go to phrase of uncontrollable excitement. Janet slowly emerged from behind the screen to deliver her powerful opening mantra in her mistress of ceremony outfit that included a stylish commanding cane. The energy in the arena was controlled by one being at that moment, the legendary Janet Jackson. I remember thinking “Is this real? Am I really a neighborhood block away from one of my dance idols? Is this a dream or is this really my reality that I’m choosing to accept?” All rhetorical questions of course, because I darn well knew where I was. As she finished up her opening statement, she dispelled prejudice, ignorance, bigotry, and illiteracy paired with a song with lyrics that explained “Drugs and crime spreadin’ on the streets / People can’t find enough to eat / Now our kids can’t go out and play / That’s the state of the world today.” The title of the tour finally made sense. Then she chanted, “We want justice! Now lets dance!”

23213413_10155531583267535_1888459550772031715_o (Photo by Jordan King)

The Arena went into a roaring frenzy as a few of the dancers appeared on stage right behind the screen. The concert proceeded with performances that explained why Janet Jackson is related to the King of Pop but how she shaped her own identity as a performer. Her songs made everyone nostalgic as my section sang along to every word like her lyrics grew up with us. The dance routines made every moment even that much more live. Janet, now 51 years old, seamless managed her role as a strong woman, an artist, a performer, a dancer, and an overall committed entertainer.

She gave us some of her debut hits and songs from her latest albums that had those strong dance numbers we practiced over and over again in or living rooms as kids. Janet didn’t miss a beat in ‘Miss You Much’ where she used a chair as prop, her dancers to expand the visuals, and the moves that made her famous. Other favorites included:’ Nasty, The pleasure principle escapade, You want this control, When I think of you, It’s all for you all nite (Dont stop), and Love Will Never Do (Without You). But of course there’s not a Janet Tour without the routine that changed the game. She performed ‘Rhythm Nation’ and again, my section was not only singing along, but they were dancing as well. It brought back so many childhood memories of trying to copy those sharp, drill-like movements. I wished I could have been on that stage at that very moment, but I was frozen in my surreal reality.

Throughout the concert I stood consistently hypnotized by the fact that I am a dancer now because Janet inspired me and I was now watching her live in concert with the dancers I met yesterday. There was one particular performance woke me up from my daze. The ‘What About’ live performance had me from start to finish. It started with a male being confronted by his spouse about his drug abuse, and he in return becomes physically abusive. Then it switched to another couple in a heated argument that aggressively turned into a physical altercation. The production was so convincing that I felt myself becoming angry with the abuser and wanting to save the victims. Her dancers played such an amazing role in portraying the emotionally charged real life scenarios. This contemporary piece captivated the entire arena. It made the performance even more potent when Janet’s last word of the performance was, “This is my life!” as the stage went dark.

Another touching moment came at the end of the concert when Janet introduced her team of talented musicians and dancers. You could tell this was how she closed the show in every city but tonight was extremely special for one dancer in particular. As she went through the names and instrument of each musician, the Key Bank center cheered with appreciation. As soon as she started running through the names of each dancer, the energy just kept getting stronger in the anticipation for one specific name. All the dancers we met like Dom, Denzel, Taylor, Kyndall and the rest of the crew but one  dancer was left for last. Janet Jackson said in excitement and respect “And your very own Buffalo, Allison Buczkowski.” It was a moment that seemed to take place in slow motion as Allison stood in place sobbing as Janet gave her the stage for Buffalo to show her love. It was also a moment that her dance mentors Denise and Gino Vaccaro, the owners of the Future Dance Center, watched as another product of their dance education on stage with one of the best performers of our time. It was an unforgettable moment that I am sure the Vaccaro’s, diehard fans of the Jackson family, and Allison will hold on to for a life time.

The weekend ended with a fullness that lasted several days following the end of the concert on Saturday. Meeting and taking classes from Janet’s Tour dancers with a few other friends made it a shared overall experience. Here is what a few of them had to say about the weekend experience. “The workshop was amazing! Being taught by professional dancers was a once in lifetime, incredible experience for Crystal and I. Then being able to see them perform made the concert much more special,” says Cynthia Winnie. “Taking part in the workshop at Future Dance Center was something that my body and mind needed. Although it was challenging, I was proud of myself; I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried something new. My body defiantly thanked me later! Through the challenges, I was really grateful to have the opportunity to learn and meet Janet’s team,” says Gaitrie Devi. “It’s not often that we are able to take classes and definitely not at that level. I was teary- eyed, but in a good way! It was an emotionally overwhelming experience for me because dance is a genuine passion of mine. And when I get to access that part of me, especially as a student, I’m acknowledging and releasing a part of me. It’s a liberating feeling, and I am grateful for the experience,” says Susie K.

Taking the workshop the day before the concert made my block distance away from the stage feel like I was in front row. It was a multi-level nostalgic experience that will always be tattooed in my memory. She is and will always be one of my favorite entertainers. She is a beautiful reflection of her brother Michael and an ambassador that continues to work on bettering the world with her love for all people by using her tour as a voice for change.  This unforgettable State of the World Tour experience is one that all fans of Janet Jackson and those looking to learn who she is as well as what she represents should not miss. It made me appreciate those days watching her and her brother shape the dance culture that lives on in not just me but so many of us. Thank you, Janet Jackson.

My Fitness Journey – Then vs Now

I remember as a young child in grade school thinking to myself, “I wonder if I can get my stomach stapled.” If you’re not familiar with what that is, it’s a procedure where they essentially make your stomach smaller so you get fuller faster. But as a child, all I knew was that larger people got the surgery to lose weight. I look back on that now in disbelief that a young girl, no older than 11 years old, would think she needed to have her stomach stapled. It is crazy how it doesn’t matter how old you are, there are still ways for girls, boys, men, women to get all these ideas in their heads that their bodies aren’t good enough. And this can come from many influences, but from my perspective, it all comes down to accepted societal norms. But I digress; that is a topic for another time.

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Needless to say, I was very aware that I was a chunky kid. I was picked on and called names. To try to lose weight, I went on the Atkins diet when I was 11 years old… 11 years old! In my opinion, an 11 year old should not be on a “diet.” I lost some weight, but I wasn’t actually focused on my health (physical or mental), so I of course gained it all back. My weight has been one huge roller-coaster ride my whole life. As I entered my adult life, I would fluctuate anywhere between 150-187 lbs at my highest.

But I’m proud to say that things are different now. There were three main things that made all the difference in my journey with health and fitness. First – Nutrition. Over the past 4 years I have learned a lot about nutrition and what foods are good for me. I have also been blessed with access to a personal chef who provides me with healthy meals on a weekly basis, making my health, from a food standpoint, much easier and convenient. Second – Dance and exercise. Over the past year, I’ve started lifting at the gym with a trainer. Ladies, if you’re reading this thinking, you shouldn’t lift because you’re a woman, you can toss that idea right out the window! Weight training has helped make me so much stronger. And of course, we can’t forget about dance. Through dance, I found myself. With that, I started to view myself differently. I became more confident. Moreover, dance has been my consistent physical activity that kept my body moving since high school. But even while dancing, I still experienced major weight fluctuation during college.

So here is the third and missing piece of the equation: personal development. In 2014, I was exposed to it for the first time. I had no idea what it was at the time. If you’re not familiar with it, basically it’s the concept of bettering yourself in any and every aspect of life. So when I first heard about it, I was confused. I was like “I’m a pretty well rounded individual. What do I need to improve on?” Boy was I in for a rude awakening. I was thinking on such a one-dimensional level. But as it was so eloquently put in Shrek, we are onions with many layers. I started to peel those layers back and realize, holy crap, I had so many raw and untapped parts of me. Over the past three years, I’ve learned so much about myself and how I am inclined to act in different situations and have started to challenge my beliefs about myself and how the world works.

Now you may be thinking, Susie, what the heck are you talking about? What does this have to do with health and fitness. I’m here to tell you, mindset has EVERYTHING to do with it! How we view the world, including ourselves, drives our actions. Through personal development, I realized that I had this belief that I am fat. If you have a voice in your head consistently reminding you that you’re a fat person and that is a part of your identity, you would imagine that it would be hard to eat healthy and lose weight. Why would you? You’ve always been fat and that’s who you are. As much as I tried to go on diets, I would still gain weight. I needed to shift my mindset and change my belief. I started telling myself, “I am healthy and beautiful.” Then I started believing it. And that’s when the magic happened. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still on my fitness journey, and there are days when I have just a little too much ice cream. But I know that my identity is a healthy, strong, beautiful and confident friend, sister, daughter, instructor and woman. Instead of subconsciously putting myself down and (in effect) calling myself fat, I now speak encouraging words to myself on a daily basis.

I share this with you in hopes of providing encouragement. I get it; I’ve been there. Not liking my body and wishing that I looked different. So how do we change our mindsets about health and fitness? First we need to start asking ourselves, why? Question your beliefs. If your girlfriend says “hey, let’s try rock climbing,” and your response is that rock climbing isn’t for you, ask yourself why. What proof do you have that it’s not for you. We have to start getting to the bottom of why we stop ourselves from trying new things. We need to stop putting ourselves into limiting categories. We can be whoever we want to be! But we need to fully believe it. We need to be our own cheerleaders instead of putting ourselves down before we even get out on that rock climbing wall. Get on that wall! And if you fall and think that rock climbing still isn’t for you, why? What proof do you have? Cause you fell on your first try? Pfft! You think a professional rock climber never fell before? Don’t let a fear of failure stop you from trying new things. I’ll say it again: YOU CAN BE WHOEVER YOU WANT TO BE. So who wants to go rock climbing?

Making Room for Ballroom

My journey with ballroom dance started at an older age. I learned in my mid 20’s that my grandfather migrated from Cuba to Jamaica at a young age, and that may be where my natural love for Latin music originated. The music has so much feeling, so much authenticity, so much passion that I could not help but move to the marriage of the instruments. The way the drums, horns, bells, and smooth accompaniment of a soulful voice created love in motion, evoked a different side of me that I never knew existed. It was the second birth of my journey to dance partnership.

My interest in partner dances grew from having Puerto Rican friends in Staten Island. The Vale family’s living room is where some of my first experiences with Latin dances took place. I would spend some of my Saturday and sometimes Sunday evenings eating Spanish rice and beans, learning how to speak Spanish, and dancing to salsa music. My favorite salsa song ‘Suavemente’ by Elvis Crespo is a classic and is usually the catalyst to my salsa dance experiences. I could not help myself when this song was played. The phrase ‘Ay dios mio!,’ was often used by everyone in the living room, to describe my enthusiasm towards dancing. I would dance for hours changing partners when one got a little tired. There is just something about Salsa music that transports you to the culture, frees the person inside you, and the world becomes obsolete for that moment you are dancing with a partner.

I started college at the age of 21, a little later than most. Similar to living in Staten Island, I met a few Puerto Rican friends that had parents that were smoother than water when it came to salsa dancing. One of those friend’s Dad taught me a move that I am an absolute pro at today. This move involves leading the lady in rhythm at full extension of the arms before pulling her in, lifting her arms over my head and letting her arms slowly descend down my neck and chest before getting back to the open flowy arms of salsa. After learning that move, I knew I wanted to learn more.

After graduating college, I had the dream to be a dancer on SYTYCD. Therefore, I set out to learn as much as I could because I knew ballroom was a requirement. After doing some research on the ballroom movement in Buffalo, I took a deeper interest into the Argentine Tango movement and consistently took a few classes. These classes taught the basics of leading and following. Some employed different concepts of communication that I had never used before in dance, but it all helped with learning how to lead more effectively. Then after each lesson, they would provide us with an hour to just dance the night away or practice what I learned throughout the course of the lesson.

Valentine’s Day was just a little over a week ago, but Ballroom dance is something you and a friend or significant other can definitely find room in your schedule to create new experiences together all year round. There are so many opportunities around the city of Buffalo to get you started. Eli Kol has a Kizomba movement that is beautiful and becoming more and more popular in the ballroom scene. Also Salsarita or Sarah is still doing here thing with her following and facebook page Salsa for the Soul. Natasha Perkins host/teaches Salsa and Bachata Nights if you are looking for variety. There is also Sabor Latino Nights with Fanny and Calvin that has been going strong for a couple years now. Finally, Tali Tigreñia and Katya have also revamped the Argentine Tango club at UB. If those two don’t satisfy your appetite for Argentine Tango, then Travis Widrick continues to share his love with open classes all over the City.

These are all opportunities to get a taste of some ballroom in your life. The ballroom experience doesn’t have an age limit either. It ranges from 18 to as old as your body allows you to follow or lead. Even if you end up going solo, there will always be opportunities to dance with new partners. It is an excellent opportunity to not only meet and learn a new dance style, but you develop a new way to live through music with deeply rooted culture.

Feel free to reach out to us by commenting below if you have any questions about the ballroom classes mentioned above.

-Rishone

Taking a Chance

Susie’s first dance class experience….

Walking into Future Dance Center for the first time in September 2007, my heart began to beat quickly when I looked through the glass door at the other students waiting for class to start. Maybe some of it was due to nerves, but it was mostly excitement! I couldn’t wait to get into class and kill it. Of course, I had my best friend Abby by my side, as this was on the list of things we wanted to do together. And I always enjoy new things more when I have someone to experience them with. I learned the routine and felt like a BO$$. Hair flips and body rolls all day! I couldn’t have danced any better than I did that night. Or so I thought. Looking back after 9 years of experience and growth with dance, I realize that I was actually not as good as I could have been. I lacked a groove and a sense of feel for the movement. But you know what? That’s OK. If I didn’t decide to take that step into my first dance class 9 years ago, I definitely would not be where I am today.

Rishone’s first dance class experience….

I was 25 when I walked into my first Hip Hop Class. I had been dancing my whole life prior but never had the opportunity to be a student. I mean, I enjoyed dancing in night clubs, weddings, and the occasional freestyle battle, but the thought of leaning choreography from someone else was scary yet also exhilarating.

Anyway, here I was walking into Free Soul Dance Studio freshly confident in my ability to move but absolutely terrified in my ability to follow someone else’s movement. This was something I always wanted to do, and it was finally time. I mentally told myself that there was no turning back at this point, and trust me, I had a fraction of a moment in which I thought about it just watching. However, we stretched and in the process, I discovered I was really good at not being flexible.

We began a routine to Jamie Fox’s ‘Blame it on the Alcohol’, and the first couple ticks demonstrated by Michael Burton had me forever hooked. Overall, I did horrendous that class. Even though I danced and taught aerobics, learning choreography was a new experience I knew nothing about. I was literally like a baby learning how to control my limbs so they moved like my teacher. Then there were transition steps that I was missing the visual and mental Qs for. It was just a hot mess, but it was so fun and exciting that I wanted more even when the class ended. I wanted to figure out what I was doing wrong, practice till I had it like the thriller routine, and then return to show everyone that I wasn’t as terrible as I was that day in class.

Finally, class ended, and I had to give the teacher respect for his professionalism and ability to teach his style/own brand of hip hop movement. I gained a brand new level of respect for dance and dancers that grew up in a traditional studio learning choreography. That evening, I wished I was 5 again and my mother enrolled me in dance instead of piano lessons which lasted 1 day before I quit (because the teacher’s house smelled funny). From that point on, my relationship with Hip Hop dance elevated to love, and I have been like a faithful partner ever since. That is a feeling I wish every person that would like to take a chance on Hip Hop could experience for themselves.

So what does this mean for you?

Looking at both of our stories, we realize something important: You don’t need to be amazing at your first go around at something. You don’t even need to be good. You just need to show up and be open to trying something new. You never know where it will take you. For us, dance has brought about new friendships and experiences that never would have happened otherwise. In addition to dance being a creative outlet that we love, it has also been a great tool for us to stay in shape. But because dance brings life into our world, we don’t see it as a labor-intensive workout. It’s simply fun, plus with consistency, you can achieve any fitness level of your choice.

So we encourage you! Take that painting class that your friend told you they loved so much. Join the intramural basketball team that you always thought would be fun. Look up your favorite meal on YouTube and learn how to make it. Whatever it may be that you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t tried yet, jump on it! And it is OK if you’re not good at first. Focus on the process and the progress, not the perfection. Life is a journey, but you have to take a step (in any direction) to make that journey a reality.

 

We want to hear from you! Is there anything that you’ve always wanted to try? Or what have you taken a chance on in life? How has it changed your perspective?

 

Dancing-to-Connect

I have always been a nerd and have always been extremely proud of it. I was the kid with the high top fade, z-lightning bolt side part that brought most of his textbooks home even though there was a spacious locker provided to every student. However, you can’t connect with others through books. Hence why I have a long existing relationship with dance and the way it makes me feel.

The first dance style I mastered, that is native to Jamaica, is dancehall. Jamaicans dance at all major life events. That includes weddings, birthday parties, community celebrations, and even funerals. The dance style is more about socialization, self-expression, and good vibes.

When I came to the states in 1994 the culture shock made me even more invested in academics, and I abandoned anything dance related for a while until my Junior year of High School. I did not start really connecting with people until I made that courageous decision to dance with a few dancers in the library after lunch. It was an unplanned dancehall performance, and everyone knew me as the nerd that brought his books home. But when I started dancing, it completely changed their perception of me. They were more open to have a normal conversation with me about high school life rather than what the homework assignment was in history class. It created a common ground to communicate and we discovered more about each other on a different level.

One essential component of being a dancer is learning that no one really connects to your movement until you put every ounce of who you are into it. Learning the art of just being myself unapologetically, and learning how to genuinely infuse those things into my movement makes others gravitate towards you in efforts to do the same. I never knew that moment in the library would lead to me teaching dance today. It was a momentary decision just to be myself, do what came natural, and I am grateful I did it.

Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of connecting through dance was the late and great ‘King of Pop,’ Michael Jackson. He started at a very young age with his brothers as a part of the Jackson 5, but it was not until he ventured out on his own that he realized how powerful dance is as a social and communication tool.  As a growing artist, he became obsessed with all cultures and studied countless dance styles that he incorporated in his own natural movement. He dedicated hours and years learning about a universal language that helped him propel his career as an artist that sells out arenas around the world. Why?  Because he mastered the ability to move in a language that the world connects to.

I am not saying that Hip Hop or Dancehall is the only way to connect but it is a great option among many. In fact, there are other studios that provide opportunities for adults to learn Hip Hop, break dance, ballroom, and other traditional genres. Such studios include: Verve Dance Studio, MODdance Studio, DaniFit Studio, Free Soul Dance, and Nickel City Dance Studio and Fitness Center. Also if you’re looking for the different dance options Buffalo has to offer, a great resource to check out is the Dance Days of Buffalo Calendar. It is filled with local dance classes, workshops, performances, and more. You can find this calendar at http://www.dancedaysofbuffalo.com/communitycalendar. Whether your goals involve fitness, becoming a better dancer, or connecting with more people, there are plenty of opportunities around that will fit your specific goals.

We at Musicality Central believe that art is a living breathing thing. When you add arms, legs, and a body of emotions immersed in music, then it becomes something beautiful. That creation surpasses all language barriers. Therefore, whether you are a nerd or the coolest person on the block, dance allows you to find a common ground where you can connect without ever saying a word. I am sure you can find that in a book somewhere but you won’t experience what it is like till you actually do it yourself.

– Rishone Todd