Monday, 30 January 2017

A Year of Stitches

Not that I need another project, but an invitation from a Facebook friend in Nottingham (a wonderful dancer and consummate craftswoman, as well as having gorgeous cats!) was too attractive to resist. I haven't done any embroidery for years. Time to regenerate my rusty embroidery skills!

The idea  is to create some embroidery - sampler, free-form, whatever you like - using a different stitch every day for a year. I'd seen a post on Craftsy last year about it, and it's an idea which has evidently caught the imagination of many embroidery enthusiasts.

I managed to find my frame, my stash of embroidery floss and some calico. I managed the first fortnight or so, working in a doodle-like fashion, trying not to be too judgemental or a perfectionist about the result. I did rip out one row of stitches, because they were just too untidy.

But it's evidently not the year for this, because I found that I quickly became bored and dissatisfied with my doodle and didn't have the energy to restart it as a sampler. I usually have no problem with Art For Art's Sake, but started thinking I should be creating something functional, and felt a vague sense of guilt.

Then I received a very large book (well, 5 books plus prologue and epilogue) to edit and the embroidery project has already slipped. It's sitting in the living room, and should be tempting, but after a few hours correcting appalling typography and wading through paragraph-length sentences, I find I don't have the concentration to do any embroidery.

I even feel torn that I've decided to give the project up, but it was clearly not meant to be, at least for this year. It's not as if I don't have other WIPs!

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

It's More Than Just A Dance Class

Another term, another manic round of  finding and reminding dancers to register, liaising with the Adult Ed department to try to determine whether there are enough for the class to go ahead (a floating number depending on how many pay which level of fees, which no-one seems able to estimate until at least 10 are registered) and preparing classes.

Then, revising the plans a little due to a change in location (industrial carpeting is horrible to turn on! The ceiling height looks okay - would we hit it if we used canes or Isis wings?) Then ensuring our Facebook group and my website have all the up-to-date information. From an organiser's point of view, whether that's an Adult Education organisation or the teacher themselves, trying to get a class going, chasing up enquiries, booking and checking the venue, marketing, advertising and planning the class, it's all necessary work, but is also unpaid expenses until the class successfully goes ahead.

And then, the day before the class is due to start, I hear that two have failed to pay. So now those who did pay for the term have no class, and no prospect of a class at least before half term, and want their money back (a pain and further sunk costs for the community education centre, although I would probably have gone ahead if it were one of my independent classes). Why the drop-outs? One I now know about; flu' over the holiday season left a harsh cough and such strained intercostals (never mind gasping for breath) that her doctor instructed her to rest for at least the next few weeks. About the other, whom I don't know but who was apparently eager to join the class, I have no idea, and neither does her friend who already comes to class.

We've been here before. A few years ago, a dancer was asked and repeatedly reminded by one of her friends to let her know about the class. She gave her all of the information, each time her friend asked her about it. Eventually, her friend stopped nagging 'let me know' and it turned into a sort of accusatory 'you were supposed to let me know'. Exasperated, the dancer reminded her friend that she had let her know, she had given her all of the information, every time she asked. She'd encouraged her friend to come, reassured her; in fact, done everything short of dragging her friend out of the house, driving her to class and back, and paying for her. All her friend had to do was show up (and pay), but she never did. And although 'but I didn't know about it' was evidently not an excuse, we never knew the real reason why she didn't come.

Nor have I had any sign-ups, or even enquiries, for my independent class. It's 15 miles away, which means no-one from the other class wants to move to that one. I've decided that I'm going to keep that room booking and use the space-time to work on my own technique and choreographies, or perhaps the odd private lesson if anyone wants one.

There has been some interest, but no real commitment, for the collaborative piece I proposed last summer. It seems impossible to get all half-dozen dancers together even for an initial meeting.

WI and other talks/demos bring forth regular comments of 'I would love to' or 'perhaps next term/year', but what stops the wish from being fulfilled is anyone's guess. I chat to the ladies over tea and biscuits at the end of these sessions to try to get to the bottom of that. It's evident from the feedback that belly dance is not what they thought it was, so much so that I now include a 'myth-busting' section in my talk (it's not the preserve of slender, leggy young women, you don't have to bare any flesh/tummies/legs, you don't have to be fit, coordinated or be any good at it to start, it's never too late, ... and so on).

I deplore the idea, which I've heard repeated in adult education circles, that adult 'leisure' courses are mainly for the idle rich, but there may be some truth in it. Belly dancing can be a problematic topic in terms of engaging adults, who can find any number of reasons why not to do something. As always, it probably comes down to personal priorities and more intangible reasons for not wanting a dance class, although belly dance classes are not the only classes which are failing to run through insufficient interest. It seems many really just don't want to learn (or feel they're being taught). I can understand this for those who aren't academic and have just finished full-time education, and there are some who have been put off lifelong learning by their experience of school.

Whatever the reasons for not coming to class (and I've posted an example of this before), there are good reasons for getting out there and continuing learning.

If belly dance itself is more than just jiggling your bottom, then learning to dance is about much more than just dance. That's just the vehicle for learning - it can be a very broad topic, from working on rhythms using finger cymbals to exploring the music, history and culture, or political and feminist issues, to building self-esteem and confidence.

Everyone needs physical activities, even the less able-bodied and it doesn't have to be sport. Just walking a bit more is free and contributes to the recommended minimum of 150 minutes of moderately-paced (that is, it gets you warm and a bit sweaty without leaving you unable to speak!) activity per week. However, dance offers the full package, improving balance, posture, range of body and joint movement, muscle strength and cardiovascular capacity. Belly dance is particularly good for core muscle strength and its benefits for balance, posture and digestion, and is low impact, so kind to ageing joints.

Furthermore, learning involves brain activity, promoting thinking skills, improving concentration and attention span, widening interests and generating ideas. For some, the main enjoyment comes from social interaction,making new friends and reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation.

I often worry about the future of public sector Adult Education services, not to mention my own work as an independent teacher. When classes close, it can be difficult to get them restarted and the resulting lack of funds can start a vicious circle, reducing the availability of classes. Yes, there is a lot of free information available via the internet, but it's not always a good substitute for being taught in a class with others. So don't wait for things (life, weight, whatever!) to be perfect before you start doing things you might enjoy, because one day when you decide you want a class, it may not be there. Use it or lose it!

Monday, 23 January 2017

Little Victories

Since well before Thanksgiving, the Gratitude/Happiness/Memories Jar memes were doing the rounds of Facebook (again). I've no idea when this tradition started, but, since it seems to include reading back all the memories, happy moments and things to be grateful for at Thanksgiving, I expect that it's more of a 'thing' in the USA.

The rules are simple, because they're basically whatever you want them to be.You take a storage or preserving jar, a pen, a stack of small note-paper strips or squares. You label and decorate the jar if you like. Daily or occasionally, you record something you're thankful for, a happy moment or memory, and pop it in the jar. Then, at the end of the year, or whenever you're in need of cheering up, you read the notes.

It's a lovely idea, definitely something I would do if I had children. I toyed with the idea of starting a jar this year and can easily find a jar, but where to put it? And considering that I can always find something to be grateful for or happy about, how big a jar might I need?

Mulling all this over, I thought about how I'd forgotten what I'd achieved last year. What and how much do I learn over a year? All the little skills or bits of knowledge which I acquire in the course of crafting, teaching, learning, doing, or simply because something arouses my curiosity so I go and look it up. Some things I forget completely, sometimes I remember them and 'know what I know', and others become embodied and automatic, as if there wasn't a time when I didn't know them.

So I am going to record them (when I remember to - no absolutes here!), in a diary rather than a jar. Not just some of the bits and pieces I learn, but the Yay! moments, no matter how small, whether it's managing to do tummy/diaphragm flutters (still working on that!), finishing a piece of work or doing a job I've been avoiding (for me, that's generally anything which needs me to get the stepladder out). It doesn't matter what others would think of them, because the important thing is their personal significance.

If reading back the notes in a gratitude jar can lift the spirits, then perhaps reviewing all the little victories of daily life can give a real boost to motivation and self-esteem.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Happy New Year 2017!

Here we are again, how the years fly by! Time for another introspective, retrospective, New Year post, and the now-traditional picture of the London Fireworks.

Fireworks over London, 1 January 2017

I had more 'Christmas Dos' - meals and meet-ups rather than parties - in December than I've had in a long, long time. The food was very good, the company, chat and laughter all wonderful. I then had a very quiet, solitary Christmas and New Year, which suited me very well, as I knitted and watched TV, lazed in bed, cuddled my clingy cats and generally hibernated. The rest and relaxation had a practical side too; since the cold snap in November, my joints feel as though they have seized and my knees are especially painful. It's now two years since I took any pain meds and I'm trying to stay away from them and manage instead with targeted exercises, distraction, breathing, rest and so on. I've also been fighting off a cold, which so far has not really materialised, but every time I think it's gone, I wake up the next day with a sore throat and fuzzy head. It's just a mild nuisance, nothing compared to the fact that a couple of my friends have been quite ill with flu over the festive season, and my friend S spent Christmas in hospital after some more attempts to lower her intracranial pressure. Really, I've nothing to complain about! Still, the joint pain meant I really couldn't be bothered to tidy my projects away in the living room enough to put decorations up, and have to take them down a couple of weeks later. Not very festive, but I'd only myself to please.

The usual cluttered chaos of beads, yarns, fabrics etc. and general lack of progress getting everything ship-shape made me wonder how to change my habits and what, in fact, I'd achieved this year. Evidently not lots of blog posts. Or cleaning and sorting out. I couldn't remember what I'd done with my time, so glanced back over my diary and to do lists.

I was pleasantly surprised with what I found. I'd cleaned and placed several items of furniture and unpacked several boxes. I'd attended workshops, including 5 days of contemporary dance summer school, to maintain my continuing professional development. I'd updated my emergency first aid certificate. I'd trained as a LIFT (Low Impact Functional Training, in other words, gentle exercise) leader for Age Cymru and covered quite a few classes. Two dance festivals, two choreographies (not counting what we produced for the end-of-summer-school show). Then from midsummer onwards I spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing for a series of workshops which, in the end, didn't attract enough students to run. (I bumped into one of the other tutors just before New Year and we stood in the middle of Lidl and chatted, commiserating over our zero hours contracts and what this next year might bring.) A few other bids for jobs too, all unsuccessful. I  extended my Photoshop and Word skills. And ended the year (at Yule) three kilos lighter than I'd started it.

Actually, a few weeks on and my sedentary and indulgent seasonal holiday has left me almost back where I started. So my first resolution for this year is to call a moratorium on buying sweets, cakes, pastries, biscuits or crisps, a bad habit I've slipped back into over the past couple of years.

Apart from that, it will be a case of working my way through the list of things to do, as long as ever, trying to complete, or at least start and make progress on, projects which have been lingering in my imagination for too long. Some of those are for choreographies, so a lot more dance and costuming is needed.

And, after an appalling financial year, more paid work.

But I made a decision.
This year is going to be fabulous, whether it wants to be or not.

Happy New Year!