Thursday, September 28, 2017

Interfusion Festival: The Ugly

My least favorite part of the Interfusion Festival, both this time and last time in February, are the performances. This year on the Saturday of the festival, they had a performance that lasted more than TWO HOURS. There were 20 acts! Who needs 20 acts?! Don't get me wrong: it's really cool to see people who are amazing at their art show off what they can do. But the majority of these pieces were amateur and weren't actually that good. And the organizers almost subconsciously wanted to distract the audience from the mediocre performance: they played a looping video about the festival itself during the whole show! They also sprinkled in jokes with a comedian/DJ, which only made the show last even longer.
Christian Rodriguez. Image found here
The show started with Christian Rodriguez, the founder of the festival, telling us that the performers were the "most beautiful souls [he has] ever connected with." Come on now. The festival is all about connecting with others, but straight out saying it like that is a little too much. And then he asked the audience to scream as loud as they could, even though he knew it would upset the hotel and the other hotel guests. That, too, was unneeded for our enjoyment of the show (and was just straight-up rude). The comedian also had to occasionally correct Christian because he would introduce someone incorrectly, etc. I can understand the founder addressing the audience to say thank you and hello, but with such a long show, the commentary needed to be kept to a minimum, and it wasn't.

I understand that the show needs to start with the worst performances; every concert starts the same way, too, with the top headliner going last. But some of these pieces were so bad that I wish they hadn't even been included. The DC Contact Improv group was exceptionally strange, featuring two older men and a young woman. It was like clumsy modern dance, and I already hate modern dance (calling the act of rolling on the ground "art"). Every move looked like a mistake, and since there were three of them, at least one person seemed to be left out at some point. The music would die down, and you kept hoping it was over, but it kept going on and on. They mentioned a weekly jam in DC on Sundays; I don't think I will be attending. Kat Arias' solo bachata performance was equally as awkward; at least it didn't last long. There was also a zouk piece by a group that had only had a few hours to practice. I understand you want to give people the opportunity to perform if they have that interest, but don't subject people who paid hard-earned money for the Festival to beginner BS like that. And the two women who performed an Afro-Brazilian dance had choreography that little girls in their first ballet class could do, just waving around fans with fabric attached to them.

Many amateur dancers lack showmanship, and this show was no different. The group from Mia Zouk from Miami rarely smiled and didn't even look like they were having fun; only two of the women looked comfortable on stage. One girl practically fell! And Margarita, a bellydancer whom I recognized from last year, was dancing with a scarf and seemed to pay more attention to it than the actual movement of her hips. Her performance reminded me of ribbon dancing in gymnastics, minus all the cool gymnastics moves.

Another part of the show which I truly despise (and this is true of the performances I saw in February, too) is that many of the women are objectified in their scantily clad outfits, while their male counterparts are completely clothed.The women in Mia Zouk wore leotards and blazers while the leads wore comfortable t-shirts and pants. The women from Classe Dance Company wore shear bodysuits, only covered by beading and jewels covering their breasts, butts, and lady bits. A tango dancer's slit was so high you could see her panties during most of the piece. Dance can be sexy without insisting that women are nothing more than pieces of meat to be ogled at. And don't tell me that dressing like that is empowering to women. Women can feel strong, independent, and beautiful without having to expose themselves like that. There was even a man (I think his name was Valencio Franco) who objectified himself on stage! He wore thigh-highs, spanx, and stilettos while dancing like a stripper (I half expected a Flashdance moment when he brought a chair on stage). While I can say that he was truly owning his dance, and that I could probably learn a thing or two about dancing in heels from him, I'm not sure his ensemble was necessary to show off his moves.

And while I appreciated Shaina Cruea's pole dancing performance, it was not nearly as graceful as the piece I saw in February by Marion Crampe. Shaina reminds me of the dancer Misty Copeland or tennis star Serena Williams: while they are incredible athletes, their muscular bodies are not as elegant as their Eastern European counterparts. Shaina's huge tattoo across her upper back, and the tramp stamp below it, did not help anything, either.

Here's a video of Shaina Cruea from a performance earlier this year:

Compared to that of Marion Crampe:

There was also a man dressed like Tarzan who did a pole dancing routine. I realize pole dancing is hard to do, but it's simply not as impressive when a man does it, since men are naturally stronger than women (physically!). It was kind of gross how much he sweated; someone had to go up on stage and wipe the bar down! Ew...

And another thing: most of the performances were either an inch from public fornication or weird artsy shit. There was almost nothing in between. Art of course is subjective, but there are some things that are universally accepted as good art, and those that are bad or distasteful. And it was unfortunate that, just like last time around, the majority of the pieces fell into the latter category. Ben and Vanessa, a couple from New York City, practically just embraced each other and caressed each other's faces on stage; at one point she was on her knees with her face near his crotch (BJ, anyone?). David Norton, who I remember from last time, danced salsa with his partner; she kept grabbing at his clothes and his face, and at one point straddled him! They're both too old to be doing that in public. These sort of displays of affection need to be saved for the bedroom.

Not all of it was really ugly, though. I thought that the acroyoga performances were good, even though there were costumes and "acting" involved that distracted me from truly enjoying the art form. But most of the time the male partner was on the ground in order to base the female partner, so unless you were in the front row, you couldn't really see him. The organizers should have been projecting a video of the performance onto the larger screens so that the entire audience could see the whole thing. But I digress...

The performance lasted so long that the social dances did not begin until after 11pm. I was so exhausted at that point (I had woken up at 6am on Saturday) that I didn't even bother getting changed and attending the dances. I just set up my yoga mat and did yoga for about an hour until my friend was ready to leave. I love open dances, and it was unfortunate that I felt like I couldn't even attend because I was so tired after a full day of workshops and then the unnecessarily long (and late starting) show.

I feel bad being so judgemental, especially since that's not what the Interfusion Festival is about. But I truly didn't feel like I got my money's worth this go-around, and if I had my choice, I wouldn't pay for those performances; I'd be more than happy to leave them out entirely and start the social dances at a more reasonable hour. The room wasn't even full, and people were leaving early in order to get ready for the dances later on, so I know I'm not the only one who doesn't prioritize the performances. I hope the organizers take the hint and reconsider whether the performances are truly necessary for guests to enjoy the Interfusion Festival*.

*The Festival cancelled the show for Sunday, but replaced it with a 2-hour cuddle party. I can't say that that was an improvement. I didn't attend that; again, I didn't pay to lay on the floor with strangers.

And it wasn't just the performances that I didn't like. I took a tantra class with Luba Evans, hoping it would be as good as the tantra workshop I participated in last time. But I didn't feel nearly the connection or the intimacy that I experienced previously. First of all, Evans talked about going through life without judgement, both regarding yourself and others. But then she went on to mention her heavy weight more than once during the workshop. That sounds like self-judgement to me! She also told us to let go of any negative feelings we had inside, and encouraged us to express them vocally. People throughout the room were shouting and screaming; as a happy person with few negative feelings pent up inside (and a very self-accepting person, too) I found this exercise uncomfortable and unsettling. This was NOT the wonderful energy or sense of community that I felt at the previous festival.

And while I liked learning about Thai massage, the teacher, Daniel Hoang, was not my favorite. Don't get me wrong: he is talented and very good at what he does. But his sarcastic attitude came off as rude and judgemental. If he saw someone doing something wrong or out of order, rather than going to that person and helping, he'd just announce to the whole room, "I don't know what some of you are doing right now, but it's not good." That's not helpful. Also, he specifically said he wouldn't walk us through every move he showed us. Most of us had never done Thai massage before, and he was at the Interfusion Festival as a teacher: that's his job! And the fact that he suggested we put blindfolds on is irresponsible and unsafe, especially for beginners like us who didn't know what we were doing. I'd like to find out more about Thai massage, I'd prefer to work with a different teacher in the future.

It's unfortunate that the majority of my Interfusion Festival experience this time around was negative, to the point that I do not think I would consider going again (unless perhaps for just one day). Unless some major changes are made, the organizers are going to lose a lot of interested people. I hope they take notes!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Interfusion Festival: The Bad

As an event planner by trade, it is sometimes hard for me to purely enjoy other events, because I'm always thinking how I would do things to make it better and improve the experience. Here are some problems I recognized at the Interfusion Festival over Labor Day weekend, and I hope Christian Rodriguez and the other event organizers will consider making changes for next time. I've also listed possible solutions; might as well share my professional opinion!

Workshop Sign-Ups: This time around, the festival tried to encourage people to sign up for workshops ahead of time to save spots for their top choice classes. When I first learned about this, I discovered that with my full pass (i.e. what I thought meant "all-inclusive"), I only could sign up for 15 workshops. In February I could attend as many workshops as I wanted, and drop into whatever classes I wanted to attend. So I felt like I wasn't getting my money's worth: I paid for nearly 5 days of classes, but with only 15 sign-ups, I could only attend the festival for 2 days.* And in the end (as you'll read below), reserving your spot didn't mean anything: some of the classes were so big you still couldn't get in.

*It was only afterward that my friend explained to me that the sign-ups were meant to reserve my spot for my top choice workshops, but that I could also attend other workshops that weren't already full. I wish this message had been made more clear from the beginning...

Solution: I'm not actually sure of a good solution. The sign-ups didn't really work, but maybe they wouldn't work anyway, regardless of the method. I think this one may be resolved by the capacity solution (see below).

Capacity: Both this time around and in February, the Festival was much more popular than expected. The organizers tried to remedy the situation by offering more days, more workshops, and the sign-ups so that the classes wouldn't get too full. But this didn't work. Some of the classes were still packed. For example, in my Thai massage class, we should have had enough room to move around our partner to get just the right position for massaging each body part. But we were crammed like little sardines, to the point that I had to skip certain moves because there simply was no room for me to do them properly.

Solution: While neither of these ideas will be popular, since the event is supposed to be inclusive, one of these changes must be made in order for all those involved to enjoy the Festival in the fullest way possible. The organizers need to:
A. Limit the number of both full- and day-passes available to prevent overcrowding at any point during the Festival (plus, saying "Sold Out!" earlier just makes the event seem that much more popular) or
B. Increase the cost to attend the Festival. This will naturally lower the number of participants/attendees. And then those who have paid top-dollar to be there will more likely get their money's worth.

Schedule: For simplicity's sake, I understand starting and finishing every workshop on the hour. But when you do that, there is no time to allow for workshops that run over, or even quick bathroom breaks. On my last day, I wanted to take a meditation class. But my zouk class ahead of it ran seven minutes over, and by the time I arrived to the meditation, the room was packed and I couldn't get in, even though I had reserved a spot. And anytime I had to pee during the festival, I had to leave a workshop early so that I would still make it on time to my next class. Not to mention that lunch breaks are not included either...

Solution: There should be a mix of classes that start on the hour, 15 minutes in, and on the half-hour. This would allow for 15-30 minute breaks in between classes for people to go to the bathroom, grab something to eat, check out the vendors, etc. People wouldn't need to leave workshops early, and they wouldn't have to rush to consecutive workshops, either. Also, this would mean the Festival could offer workshops of different lengths; sometimes one hour is too short but two hours is too long, but being able to offer 1.5 hour classes could be perfect.

Temperature: Just like last time, some of the rooms were FREEZING. I thought maybe it happened in February because, was winter. But even in late summer, many of the rooms were too cold. I understand needing to keep the rooms somewhat cool for the dance classes because people are being active, but the only time I felt too warm was during my acroyoga class. Otherwise, I was so cold I was shivering at times! How am I supposed to meditate or focus on my partner when my hands are shaking?! And don't think it was just me: there were plenty of thin women there with little body fat to keep them warm; there were actually blankets in the back of some rooms that people could use as mats, but they were using them AS blankets because these people were freezing! We shouldn't have to wear three layers during Labor Day weekend in D.C.

Solution: I have two ideas for this:
A. Control the temperature of the room for each workshop. If a dance class is at 9, turn the A/C on, and if it's followed by a meditation class at 10, turn the A/C off (or even the heat on). A volunteer could easily be in charge of this task. Or...
B. Keep the same kinds of classes in each room. If you want to keep a room cooler, put all the dance classes in one studio; for the classes that need warm space (i.e. those when you are laying down and not moving), put them all in a studio that's heated. And if there are way more dance classes, schedule them for later in the day, so you're only cooling the room after the yoga/meditation/massage classes. Making this work on a schedule should not be difficult.

The Interfusion Festival is described as a "grassroots" festival. But I find that the term is used as a euphemism for unorganized and less formalized. If you're going to have hundreds of people (some from across the country) attend your event, you can't just let things happen "organically," or just see how things pan out. I hope the organizers will take my feedback, as well as that from others, for future festivals (if I even bother to attend next time).

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Interfusion Festival: The Good

Image found here
I attended the Interfusion Festival for the first time this past February (blog post about that here). I had such a great experience (especially because of a particular tantra workshop I attended), so I knew I wanted to go again. So I bought tickets and went to the one held over Labor Day weekend (sorry for the late post!).

I wanted to make sure I participated in a variety of workshops, including ones I had never tried before. This time around, I took an acroyoga class for the first time, and I really liked it! The class started with some regular yoga; I practice yoga at least once a week, so I was happy to have some of that incorporated into the class, especially first thing in the morning. Then half of us sat in a circle, and then another person stood behind each of us and gave shoulder massages. It was very relaxing, and nice not knowing who was touching you, just feeling comforted by a complete stranger. Then we took turns so that all of us got to experience it. Afterward we broke into groups of three to do the acroyoga exercises: we took turns basing, flying, and spotting. Some poses were easier than others, but it was amazing knowing that your body is strong enough to hold up another human being, and that you can trust a total stranger to hold you up, too. This was by far my favorite class of the whole festival!

Here's a video of one of the poses we did in acroyoga called "folded leaf" :

The other new workshop I had never done before was Thai massage. Thai massage is essentially giving someone a massage with your entire body rather than just with your hands: you can sit on someone's leg, or use your elbow to apply pressure, etc. I'm not sure how much I really learned from the workshop, but I could definitely take some of the moves home to try on friends and family. Here's a video of the instructor Daniel Hoang performing Thai massage:

I had also never tried West Coast Swing dancing at Interfusion before. This year's teachers, Daniel Pavlov and Lia Brown, were fantastic! I had only taken one West Coast Swing class before up in Baltimore several months ago, and none of it made sense because I didn't have a good teacher. But these two were fun and explained all the moves clearly. I also thought it was really cool when they showed us how you could use the exact same mini-routine for two completely different songs (one fast and up-beat, the other slow and romantic). And this was a smaller class, so I felt like I had more space to see the instructors and to move around during the lesson. I would love to learn more West Coast Swing moves now! Here is a video featuring Lia Brown with a different partner:

On the second day I took dances classes all day. I took one belly dancing class, where we learned how to isolate our upper bodies and move our hands and arms in the right way (which is funny, because I actually already dance with my hands like that!). I took a couple of bachata classes, because I am trying to get more into Latin dances, and bachata is easier than salsa. I've also been trying to get into zouk, so I took several workshops for that dance style. I especially enjoyed Ashley Kent's zouk class, which was all about connection with your dance partner; her exercise of having the follows close their eyes while dancing was very helpful! And Jessica Lamdon and Ry'el, who are both fantastic dancers from ZenZouk, encouraged us to incorporate the elements (wind, fire, water) into our dancing, which I thought was really cool. But many of the classes did not cover the basic steps, which was a little challenging for a beginner, but it also showed me that sometimes you don't have to follow the rigid set steps. The more I dance, the more I realize how you can mix and match so many dance moves from different styles to different music, and it all looks amazing. That's what makes dance so creative!

Most of the instructors were quite funny, too, which helped everyone relax and made the experience more enjoyable. I really appreciated their sense of humor and helpful direction! I was glad I had the opportunity to try so many different kinds of workshops, and was pleased that I enjoyed a lot of them!

The workshops weren't the only good part about the Festival, though. The performances (most of which I'll talk about in a different blog post) feature some very talented people. A bellydancer named Katie was AMAZING! She moved her body perfectly in sync with the staccato music; she is truly a performer. Also, two women from Zouk Mia in Miami danced to Daya's song "Sit Still, Look Pretty." They took turns leading and following, which is always impressive. They also added a really cool element to the dance: they had a man's button-down shirt and took turns putting it on, but switched who was wearing it while dancing! They did the move so seamlessly, slipping their arms in and out of the sleeves while moving across the stage. It was so cool! There was also a petite woman who I recognized from one of the zouk classes, and she was hoola-hooping on stage. It was fun to know that I got to meet one of the performers before I even knew who she was. And I'm always impressed by the acroyoga performances. Well done!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Summer Concerts at the Strathmore

In the summer, the Strathmore hosts free outdoor concerts on Wednesday nights. I had the chance to make it to a few of them this year. Free live music while having a picnic? That's my idea of a good time!

Look Homeward

This band has a bluegrassy sound. They were a lot of fun, and I loved their energy. Here are some of their songs.

Sittin' on Top of the World





I wasn't as impressed by this band as the first one I saw, but still, a free outdoor concert is fun either way. Plus there was a conga line!


Dos Nordes Tres

You can listen to more of their music on their YouTube channel.

Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys

Image found here

This was my favorite Strathmore concert of the summer. This bluegrass band is so talented; each band member can play multiple musical instruments and sing! I liked them so much that I bought their newest CD, Ionia. It was my soundtrack for the rest of the summer.

Here are a few of the songs from their latest album:

Old Song

River Jordan

Here Between

And a fun cover of No Doubt's "Just a Girl"

I am already looking forward to next summer's concert. Who will they bring on next?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Rosh Hashanah Recipe: Sweet Challah Bread

Over the past year or so, I have gotten more involved in the local Moishe House community in the DC area. There are actually four different houses here, and they all host fun events throughout the year. Because Rosh Hashanah is coming up, there have been lots of events going on, and last week the Moishe House in Columbia Heights hosted a get-together to make challah bread. I had never made challah before, but it is delicious, so I thought I would try it.

Challah frequently is not flavored, but for the Jewish new year, sweet challah is quite common. We had the choice to make honey and raisin challah (rather traditional), chocolate chip challah, or apple and brown sugar. I chose the last option: I has never heard of that kind before!

The house did a great job organizing the event: each of us had a "Seder plate" of ingredients, so everything was already measured out and ready to go. Super easy! And we took the raw dough home with us so we could bake it anytime, which was really convenient, since it takes about an hour to bake. Here's the recipe:

1 packet of fast acting yeast
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon of sugar
Let this mixture sit covered for 5 minutes. (We covered each bowl with a paper towel.)

Then add to the bowl:
1/4 cup oil
1/2 sugar
1 egg
1 pinch of salt
3 1/2 cups flour

Mix all together and knead the dough for 10 minutes. (The fun part! I recommend putting flour on your hands so that the dough doesn't stick to your fingers as you knead it.)
Let sit for an hour and a half. (We enjoyed baked brie and sat talking as a group while we waited.)

Flatten out and put a layer of brown sugar and chopped, peeled apples. Roll into one long snake and turn into a spiral, break into three pieces and make three snakes to braid, or make six balls and put them in the round tray to make a "pull-apart challah." (I chose the first one; I thought it would be the easiest for my first time making challah!) 
Optional: mix up one egg and brush it over the raw dough to create an egg wash. Ideally you would have enough time to let one wash dry and do a second wash before baking the dough. (I only did one egg wash, but that was fine; the bread just doesn't look as shiny.)

Bake for 15 minutes at 450°, then bring the temperature down to 350° and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Keep an eye on it, because every oven is different. (I put aluminum foil over the dough after the first 15 minutes to keep the crush from burning.)

In the end I thought the bread turned out great! I was afraid that the dough would still be raw in the middle from stories I had heard from other people, but it was cooked all the way through and delicious! I will definitely make this recipe again, for Rosh Hashanah and otherwise.