I believe we can be anyone

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best to make you like everybody else is to fight the hardest battle you can fight--but never stop fighting! E.E. Cummings

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Empowerment Lessons from a Vampire??

Recently, I was working at a catering gig at the EPCOR Centre. It was an event for Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. The theme was Irish. Not sure why, but maybe it had something to do with one of the guests, an Irish ex-doctor turned author who read a passage from his new book. The entertainment was great including Irish dancers (one of which, a boy, who could kick his leg almost to the roof, or so it seemed) and an Irish band playing wonderful Irish music.

My job, as usual, was to walk around and serve people food. It was a fairly low key event and I was only there for four hours (but my body felt like it worked six or eight, what's up with that?)

I ended up walking around with my unusually heavy white plate of succulent prawns that you could dip in a mango sauce. I hate those plates by the way. They look nice but, could they be any heavier??  Not a great choice for a server to be carrying around.

A while later, I walked up to the author who was speaking with a group of two or three men. He asked me where I was from.  I told him Edmonton. Surprisingly, as an author, the best thing he could come up with was a put-down joke about Edmonton (like I haven't heard those before).  I have been living in Calgary for over ten years now and am fully aware of this ridiculous rivalry between Calgary and Edmonton. I don't understand it. Personally, I think it's petty and have no time to listen to jokes that I have heard so many times before.  Why can’t we just get along and appreciate each other for our unique qualities?

Anyway, as he started to tell this joke, I surprised myself (and the other guests) by doing something I rarely do. Instead of politely listening, smiling and laughing (at this insulting joke at my expense), I turned my back and walked away. Yes! I just walked away! And I tell you, it felt great. I need to do this more often. It felt empowering to leave. I thought "Why should I listen to someone who's only thing to say to me is an insult upon first meeting me." (Or, in general, has nothing to say of importance or who frankly bores me.) All too often I have been the "nice" girl and listened when I really didn't need or want to. The older I get, the less I want to please others. It's still a work in progress though, exorcising the "polite" or "nice girl" syndrome.  Don't get me wrong.  I think it's a good thing to be polite but it's finding that balance of politeness and not feeling like I'm getting walked on.  Assertiveness is an art.

Recently, I have been watching "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". Now, I know what some of you may be thinking.  "Buffy the Vampire Slayer?  Really?"  Well, you would be surprised, once you give yourself some time to get into the show, how good it actually is.  I was sceptical at first and wasn't overly impressed even after the first season (even though I am a "vampire" fan, except for Twilight that is), but then a funny thing happened.  Somehow, sometime during the second season, I got hooked. 

It's always amazing to me that I can choose to see, hear and understand the deeper layers of the meaning of life and purpose through some TV shows and movies.  Sometimes when I am struggling with something in my life, answers can be revealed in surprising ways and through a number of methods including conversations with friends or through various media.  One way I learn is by watching others.  I take what I like or think will work for me, try it out and then keep it (or not).  It then goes into my philosophical way of living and thinking.

If any of you know the show and the characters, I loved the show where one of the main characters, Willow, has a double in another realm that is a vampire and is really mean. Not that I want to be really mean or anything, but hey, I can still learn something about characters like that. Let me share.

What I love about her evil character is that it's the opposite of who she is. Willow is a polite, does the right thing, reliable and nice girl who will often be a doormat and who doesn't stand up for herself.  She is also very resourceful and intelligent.

Below, is a photo of nice Willow (on the left) and evil Vampire Willow (on the right).

Her Vampire Persona is the opposite. She's outspoken, doesn't put up with shit, is assertive, confident and knows what she wants.  But she will also kill at the drop of a hat and "play" with her food, but that's besides the point.  If she's bored, she will say "Bored now. Leaving" and walk away in this matter of fact, "la di da" Annie Hall sort of way. I think she unconsciously rubbed off on me that night, in a good way.  I'm going to walk away more often. Why waste time with people, activities or work that doesn't "blow my hair back", as a friend of mine, Sheryl, would say.  It's sometimes easier said than done though and still takes practice.

One way to find out who I am, is to find out who I am not.

As I walked out again a little while later with another tray of food, I walked by him and could tell he was pissed. Oh well, get over it and come up with some better party conversation.

By the way, BITCH is an anachronism for: a Babe In Total Control of Herself. So next time someone calls you a Bitch, say "Why Yes, I am!" and walk away, proudly.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

America the Beautiful??

On April 8th,  I went to see a movie called "America the Beautiful" through the Alberta Women's Health Resources at the new Alberta Children's Hospital. The subject matter was about America's (and perhaps even Canada could be included here) obsession with beauty and how comparing ourselves with unrealistic images of physical beauty affects our self-esteem. It was thought provoking and invoked feelings in me of anger, sadness, disgust and at times, laughter at the absurdity of it all. This is a "must see" movie for every woman and man, young and old.

As I sat there watching, a few scenes made me feel sad. In particular, there were some young girls being interviewed who said they didn't think they were pretty or beautiful.  In fact, they said out loud, that they thought they were "ugly". These were girls as young as eight, ten and twelve. Now, to me, looking at these girls, I personally thought they were pretty and beautiful. But they felt and thought the opposite. Why is this happening? What is going on here? It's a sad state of affairs and it's rampant in America (and somewhat in Canada too). What is it that we are teaching, not only girls and women, but the men and boys too?

Unfortunately, I come across this quite frequently when I'm teaching classes. Almost every woman I speak with has some kind of hatred or dislike in regard to their physical attributes, myself included. I still struggle with a couple things I don't like about my body (now it's more about how it doesn't "work" or do things like it used to). Funny thing though, when I was in the best shape of my life as a dancer, I still found something to complain about.  Now I look back at photos and say to myself: "What was I thinking?? I looked great!" And yet, here I am, like so many other women, still not completely loving myself 100%.  When is this going to stop?  I have worked on this issue with myself for what feels like forever. And it is getting better, but it's still challenging for me. Especially now that I'm getting older and things just start to change when a person gets older no matter how much we fight it.  And yet, I don't feel like working out as hard as I used to either.  So be it.  I just do the best I can every day.   At this stage of my life, it's about having fun, listening to my body and not pushing it to extremes (the whole "no pain no gain" theory).

I have stopped buying fashion magazines and we cancelled our cable last year but it's still difficult trying to cocoon myself away from the constant bombardment of "beautiful" images.  As a society, it's everywhere:  in magazines, movies, advertising, stores, television, the internet and more.  It's impossible at this point, to be completely away from it all, unless I go live in complete isolation in a cabin in the mountains away from everyone and everything (which is what I feel like doing from time to time).  It's madness and craziness.  Life is challenging enough without all these unrealistic expectations on top of it.

So what can we do? Well, there are some things you can do.  As I mentioned above, one thing you can start doing is stop supporting the magazines that perpetuate the images and support negative self-esteem. Now, I know what you may be thinking. "Really, Martina, do images and magazines really have that much power and influence over us?"  Yes, I believe they do.  First of all, those young girls that were interviewed in the movie were looking at "beautiful" images over and over again and they got their ideas of beauty from them. When they looked at the magazine and then back at themselves, they said: "Well, if this is the image of beauty and I don't look like that, I must be ugly then." It's damaging and it's toxic to us and to the beautiful young girls and women out there.

The thing about magazines and photography is: there is an incredible amount of manipulation that goes on in creating these images so they look "perfect".  So basically, what we see as the end product isn't real. 

Remember the Dove commercial of the before and after model?  Check it out below.  Double click for full screen.

If you still want to keep buying magazines, well, I can't stop you, it's your choice. But please take those kinds of magazines with a grain of salt and know where they are coming from. They are manipulated and unrealistic images so don't take them too seriously. I enjoy beauty as much as the next person but stop seeing those images as the "real thing" and allowing it to affect your self-esteem (if it is).  Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and images.

By the way, the same magazines that will have an article about "How to increase your self-esteem" will have 10 or more advertisements for products about why you aren't beautiful enough the way you are so they can sell you their anti-wrinkle cream, anti-cellulite cream or anti-"god knows what else cream" (and what kinds of chemicals are in this stuff anyhow???).  Ironic, isn't it?

Don't get sucked into buying all these expensive and chemical laden products. In the movie it mentioned that 450 chemicals that were in cosmetic products were banned in Europe and yet only 6 have been banned in the last 10 years in the US.  What is going on here? All I know is cosmetic companies and magazines don't have your best interests at heart. They are there to take your money and self-esteem from you so it can keep them in business.  Stop supporting these companies and start reading labels (you may notice a lot of products aren't even labelled to begin with, hmmmm).

Another interesting study was done in Fiji which was talked about in the movie. Fiji didn't have television for a number of years. People have this debate all the time about violence in movies and does it affect us to the point of wanting to do it ourselves etc. The people selling the movies will of course say no, it doesn't, because they want you to spend your money and go see the movie. Other people would say, how could it not?  Nonetheless, it's always a debate.  But let's get back on track to our topic of beauty.

Case in point about Fiji.  As I mentioned, Fiji didn't have television for a number of years. They actually fought against bringing it into their country but it got passed and now they have TV. Well, three years later they did a study to see if watching images on TV affected young girls and it did. 11% of girls didn't feel as good about themselves as they did before.  Interesting.  So yes, I believe images do affect us. So again, watch TV, watch movies if you want, but remember: it's not based in reality (and that includes most "reality" shows).  Take it for what it is, but don't allow it to affect you and your self-esteem. Limit the amount of TV that you watch and spend your time taking care of yourself, having fun, spending time with family and friends and figuring out what your dreams and goals are and how you want to create your life instead.  It's your choice.

There were some horrifying stories and clips about plastic surgery.  I'm not going to get into this too much here because it was a pretty big subject, but I do want to talk about one scene in the movie. They are now doing plastic surgery so you can get a "Designer Vagina".  Yes, you read that right.  "DESIGNER VAGINA"!!

The director was in the plastic surgeon's office with the woman being interviewed. She saw images in a nude model magazine and liked how their vaginas looked apparently. She didn't like the fact that one of her labia was longer than the other and she wanted to get it "trimmed" so it would be equal in length.  Wait a minute! Isn't one foot or hand generally bigger than the other?  Maybe I should get my foot and hand trimmed down too while I'm at it so it's "equal". Are you kidding me?  What the hell?  By the way, they airbrush these magazines too so the vaginas look "socially acceptable" (whatever that means).  Don't do it!  Aren't we trying to stop genital mutilation in other countries?  Why is it okay to "mutilate" vaginas via plastic surgery?  We are born with what we have for a reason.  Have we gone completely bonkers? LOVE YOUR VAGINA the way it is!!  I understand if it's some kind of health issue but if it's purely for cosmetic purposes to look like someone else that's another thing.  It's another scheme to take your money from you.

I hope this has shone some light and got you thinking.  Sharing my thoughts for all of you to see and read is like peeling another layer off.  My wish is to get this message out to as many people as possible. 

Namaste, Martina

Friday, May 14, 2010

Coming Full Circle

I feel like it has been forever since I last wrote, which in a way, it has been.  This is an unusually long post, so please bare with me.  A lot has happened and changed and I feel, not only am I transforming once again, but so is GoDDess GrOOve.  I have been teaching for a long time now, over eight years and I have seen a lot change in those eight years.

I started teaching "back in the day" when it was unheard of to teach an exotic dance class.  I was reluctant to tell my parents what I was about to embark on.  They are from a different generation.  I grew up as an only child with a Catholic upbringing; going to Catholic school and Catholic Church on Sundays (which I have since renounced).  You could only imagine their horror when their only daughter decided to become an Exotic Dancer or Stripper at the age of 23 (although it wasn't my idea originally, but that's another story).  It was pretty rough throughout the time I was dancing.  Once I quit, they were relieved and things went back to normal for a while.  I tried to fit into the "real" world by getting a "normal" job but that just didn't work for me.

My parents knew something was up.  When I told them I was going to be teaching, they said things like:  "Why would they (the women) want to do that?  Do they want to become a stripper?"  I said "No, they take my class because they want to feel sexier and get in touch with their bodies.  And they want to have fun."  It still didn't make sense to them, but often things don't make sense to someone if they just aren't able to understand them.  But off I went on my way regardless.  Once I make up my mind, that's it.

It didn't make sense to a lot of people at the beginning and so I had a number of hurdles to climb over, especially being the first person to teach in Calgary.  Not only that, I put a number of hurdles in my own way that I needed to climb.  I still had my own judgments to overcome even though I worked through a number of them up to that point.  It was still scary putting myself out there and sharing who I was and where I came from.  Being seen in a different way was unknown territory and I was still discovering who this new person wanted to be.

I taught my student back in the late 90s in British Columbia.  Her name was Nikki.  Nikki was introduced to me through my friend Julia.  Julia was one of the very few people at that time that I told about my experience of being a dancer.  She was open minded and so I felt fairly safe telling her.  One day she mentioned that Nikki wanted to surprise her husband for his birthday and would I teach her some moves.  I said "Sure".  I was so green.  I mean, I had never taught anyone how to dance or move their body.  I had only taught myself up to that point.  I was to start another journey of "winging it", just like I did when I started my dance career.

After I taught Nikki, Julia planted the seed in me.  She said, "You know, I think you should teach. I think other women would want to learn how to do this."  And so it began.  But that seed laid dormant for a number of years.  I had too many issues about being a dancer to start teaching.  I was too afraid of judgments from people and rightfully so, as I had been judged from personal experience.  Sometimes judgments would be spoken out loud and sometimes I just didn't hear from people again.  And so, the idea sat for a number of years waiting to bloom.  I mean, how could I teach?  People would ask me questions like:  "So how did you get into teaching this by the way?", and so on.  I decided to not speak about it at all until I felt ready.

I started my career as a Professional Exotic Dancer in 1987 and I danced for eight years.  I had never taken a dance class in my life.  The most dancing I ever did was in the bar when I was a teenager and in my 20s, but I did enjoy it.  When I got "thrown" into this world by accident (or divine intervention, depends on how you look at it), I was literally "winging it" as I went along. Well, I did have a couple lessons on a Monday and Tuesday.  The dance agent said:  "Here's six moves and practice in front of the mirror.  And oh, by the way, there's an amateur contest on Wednesday.  I think you should go in it."   

After the contest, I chose to take a gig in Hardisty, Alberta and by Friday I was working.  Thanks to my fiance at the time who wanted me to take the "lessons" for him which backfired as I ended our relationship shortly thereafter.  It took a good year or two for me to feel like I knew what I was doing on stage.  Even though I didn't start out as a very good dancer, they still paid me.  It was "on the job paid training" thankfully .  Hence, my life as a dancer began and the more I practiced, the better I got.

My career teaching began the same way, throwing myself into it.  Back then there weren't any DVDs I could use as a reference to help me along.  I had to make it all up.  I was full of doubt. Did I know what I was doing?  What if people question me to see if I know what I'm doing?  Are they going to be able to tell?  But I went ahead anyhow praying for the best.  Just like I had in the past, the more I practiced, the more comfortable I felt.  All I needed was time, experience and practice.

In spring of 2008 I received an email from the City of Calgary.  In the email, she said "We have two full Stripacize classes for the spring session with no Instructor.  We heard about you and wonder if you are interested in teaching with us."  It fell out of the sky, out of nowhere.  I was like "Where did that come from?"  So I figured it was a sign from the Universe and we set up an interview.  It went great and I was hired on the spot.  It flowed so easy I figured it was meant to be and my career with the City began.  I figured it would be another avenue for me and my work to get out there.  I feel honoured to be able to teach with the City.

"Back in the old days" when I was busy hiding my life as a dancer, it was challenging lying about my past.  Things like, what would I write on my resume for the eight year span of time I was dancing.  I mean, what was I going to write?  Five years as an Administration Assistant and oh yeah, eight years as a Professional Exotic Dancer?  I think not.  So I put down "Homemaker" instead. 

I felt like I finally came full circle when I wrote up my resume and cover letter for the City.  I basically laid it all out.  My life in the business and how long I was teaching.  If the City was okay advertising Stripacize classes well, then, I'm okay with too.  I was proud to write it all down and realized I have a wealth of knowledge to share.  Not only that, but I had taken a number of personal growth courses over the years which also looked great on my resume but also gave my teaching style a unique flair and style.  And so, another layer of the onion of my life was peeled away.

Learning to accept myself and my past didn't happen overnight though.  For the last ten years, I had taken a number of courses and done a lot of healing work to get where I am and it's a continual process.  My journey started with a fellow by the name of Martin Schwartz of Counter Stress Services.  I physically moved a lot of energy with him and I believe it allowed me to open up to other opportunities.

My next step was Personal Best Seminars.  I found out about Personal Best while I was working at a job that had started to turn into a stressful and unhealthy work environment.  Two people by the names of Colin and Lynn were hired to turn the work environment around.  I didn't realize how unhealthy it was until a few months in.  I was too focused on all the money I was making, which came with a price later on I realized.  After a while, things were being revealed and I grew to hate it there, along with the other employees.

After the employees shared their feelings, these people realized it would take a longer process to "fix" everything that was wrong (mainly it was the owner we all had issues with).  I had probed Lynn about 'how did she get started in this line of work' and she mentioned "Personal Best".  Within a month, the owner fired them and then shortly after me on Oct 31, 2000.  I was one of the many casualties in their revolving door within a ten month period.  I called Lynn up and told her I got fired.  She said "Oh good, now you can do Personal Best."  I said "Yeah, I guess I can!"   And off I went to sit down with someone to talk about it.

At that point I was fed up.  I was exhausted and felt burdened physically, mentally and emotionally.  That burden also manifested in the physical form of 40 extra pounds.  It didn't take anyone to convince me at that point that I needed to do something.  I was ripe for change.  I was still hiding my past up to that point.  When I did Personal Best, I thought "Okay, this is a chance for me to share my "dreaded" past (or so I thought)."  I would say things like "I used to be a dancer" just hoping, and dreading at the same time that a participant would ask me about it and eventually they did. 

People didn't react like I thought they would.  They were more curious and excited.  I realized I was judging the people I thought were judging me ironically, and then judging myself.  It was such a relief to let that go and I felt the weight of the world lifted from me.  It changed everything. I felt that teaching could not only change things for women, but for me too.  And so the seed that lay dormant for so long was finally allowed to start blooming.

I still had challenges to overcome though.  As I mentioned, being the only one teaching at the beginning was difficult at times.  Continuing to work through self-doubt in what I was doing and my abilities was a regular pastime.  I have seen many changes in the industry over the last eight years: from people not hearing about exotic dance classes to it becoming mainstream where classes are being held in fitness facilities all over.  You can purchase many DVDs now.  It's been on Oprah.  "Stripping" and "strippers" are in movies more and more:  Dancing at the Blue Iguana, Powder Blue and The Wrestler to name a few. 

I'm happy to see it's become mainstream and more accepted.  It's not quite there yet but it's getting there.  There's been a perception of dancers and the industry for a long time.  It doesn't mean some of it isn't true.  But it doesn't mean all of it is either.  I remember finishing a show once and one of the guys in the audience came up to me and said "Wow, you seem so 'normal'."  I said, "Well, why wouldn't I be?"  All of us aren't alcoholics, drug addicts and partiers who spend time with no one but bikers.  Funny what people's perceptions can be.

There is some danger when anything becomes too mainstream as I find that sometimes integrity can go by the wayside.  In some places, you can now take a three hour workshop and become certified as a Stripacize or Strippercize Instructor.  I have heard of  Pole Dance Instructors who have taken three hours of pole dancing and think they can now instruct. Yikes! Pole dancing is extremely difficult considering the safety factors involved.  I wouldn't be so bold to think I could teach anything after three hours, but hey, that's just me.  Consider your Instructor's background before taking a class.  Every Instructor will have their own way and style of doing things but their way and style might not be suited to every student.  In the end, background is important but also your own personal preference to what works for you.

There's been other challenges in regards to getting people to understand why I charge what I do and getting them to see value in it.  Now that's it's so mainstream, it's become increasingly difficult at times to get paid what I feel I'm worth with all the competition in Calgary.  I'm not great at selling myself.  It's a skill I'm still learning.  I just want people to "get me" and the work.  Once women have experienced my workshops they have a better understanding of what I do.  Trying to explain the process though is not always easy.  It's a magical process that can leave women transformed which they don't always realize right away.

It's tough competing in a world with so many others trying to do similar things.  How does a person stand out?  "They" say capitalism is a great thing; I disagree.  I think people tend to step out of their integrity to make a quick buck sometimes at the expense of others.  We are seeing more and more of this around us with the fall of corporations and government.  I'm tired of competing.  I believe we need to create a world in which everyone is honoured and appreciated for their individual gifts and get paid fairly for it.  I guess I'm an idealist.  I just don't fit into this corporate, competitive culture.  Things need to change into a healthier model.

Ironically, working with the City, I'm now, in some ways, competing with myself.  The class is way underpriced so I feel undervalued in a way.  There are always positives and negatives with anything though.  It's great for clients as far as pricing goes and it does allow clients who maybe don't have a lot of extra cash to experience my class.  So, for the money they pay, they get tremendous value and an introduction to me.  For me, the City does all the registration and marketing, so that's great.  I guess it comes down to offering other services and experiences to those women that the City doesn't offer.

This year, I have realized that it's difficult for many artists and teachers to get paid their worth. People don't teach or instruct because they make a lot of money doing it.  They do it because they love it.  Trying to put a price on my value and my worth is still a challenging place; and then convincing and competing is just another hurdle to climb.  It has taken some of the joy out of it for me; trying to create a business.  I'm not into convincing people.  I realize not everyone is going to "get me" and that's okay; but for those that do, they willingly support me.  I just want to do what I love and be supported by that.  I have come to realize that making a living teaching dance is unrealistic.  It's a hobby in a way, which is fine.  Coming to that realization hasn't been easy.  And so, I will continue to teach when called to do so but I am no longer pushing myself to make it work.
I have worked with hundreds of women over the last eight years.  It has been a privilege and an honour.  As much as I have touched their lives, their lives have touched mine too.  I have been blessed over the years by the hundreds of testimonials and cards I have received.  Once, I even received a box of chocolates from a husband of one student whose card just said "Thank you." The testimonials speak for themselves.  From time to time I look at those testimonials when I go through periods of self-doubt and get re-energized by them.  Thank you to all the women who have supported me and continue to support me.  It means a lot.

At this point, I will continue to teach from time to time.  I feel it's time to move into another direction.  Writing has been something I have done off and on for a while now but haven't been able to completely focus on.  I love writing and sharing thoughts.  There can be power in words. I feel like it's time to move into a more full time path with it.  Writing this blog has been able to fulfill part of this need for me.  My wish is for this blog to inspire you, educate you, inform you and perhaps even surprise and "shock" you from time to time.  Maybe you will even laugh out loud.  I look forward to a journey of sharing thoughts, ideas, information and inspiration with you.

All the best.  Namaste, The Goddess of Groove, Martina