Mood Mondays - Episode 16: "Holocene" by Bon Iver

As I sat down to write this blog entry, I couldn't remember what had happened back in September 2015 that inspired the mood for Episode 16. Luckily I have a pretty detailed Google Calendar that tracks all the events in my life, from major dance projects to yoga classes. 

I found that around the time this video was made and published was also the audition for Grease: Live (more on that experience in a later post). I remember that process being so intense yet inspiring. After the call was the call back, after the call back was the final call back, and after the final call back was the final final call back. I remember thinking to myself, "Man, everyone in this room is so dang talented." The caliber of dancers in the room was such that Zach Woodlee, the choreographer, could've closed his eyes, spun in a circle, chosen 10 dancers at random, and there still would've been some darn good dancing in the show. 

Really. Everyone was that awesome. 

But in the end, the dancers were likely cast based on a whole host of other factors outside of skill alone. Dancing is an art, and casting is an art too. It takes a very discerning eye to understand how specific individuals can mesh together to create a larger whole. After all good ingredients combined together don't always make a good dish. And while I may be biased, the dish our Grease: Live creative team whipped up was worthy of a Michelin star rating: 
Actors and dancers with director (Tommy) and choreographer (Zach)
The Grease: Live Cast
And that was the reason why I felt (and still feel) so humbled. LA is a competitive city filled with some of the nation's most talented professional dancers. My livelihood as a commercial dancer is booking jobs and beating out the sometimes hundreds of other dancers in the room. As a result, I generally forget to take a moment to simply marvel at how incredibly skilled my peers are. It's easy in this kind of environment to feel envy over admiration. 

But last year was also a year of great personal growth for me. I finally felt ready to face a few demons that I had shoved to the back of the closet when I first moved to LA 7 years ago. In so doing, my perception of LA and of commercial dance shifted. I began seeing it as one (but not the only one) outlet for me to find purpose and build identity. All of that trickled down into my every day life, so instead of feeling hyper-competitive (though I still felt anxious) in that final final call back I felt humbled. 

Now that you understand the intention and reasoning behind the video, I invite you to enjoy Episode 16 of my Mood Mondays series:


Episode 16: "Holocene" by Bon Iver 
Mood: Humbled
Location: Griffith Park, CA
Videographer: Selina Ruthe

You can find the rest of the series up to Episode 27 of Mood Mondays on my YouTube channel and website

Mood Mondays - Episode 15: "Pure" by Ginger Brooks Takahashi and Mirah Yom Tom Zeitlyst

I've always been in love with the song, "Pure" by Ginger Brooks Takahashi and Mirah Yom Tom Zeitlyst. There is something very soothing and grounding about the way the beat intertwines with the singer's voice. I didn't have a clear concept videography wise for this episode, but Selina and I collaborated on creating the space once we figured out what I would be doing movement wise. We deliberately started off in darkness, and I thought it'd be interesting to direct my movement to the light ball since it was such had such a strong visual presence in the shot: 


Episode 15: "Pure" by Ginger Brooks Takahashi and Mirah Yom Tom Zeitlyst
Mood: Mellow
Location: Koreatown
Videographer: @selinaruthe

Mood Mondays - Episode 12: "Bill Murray" by Phantogram

This mood wasn't inspired by a deep psychological state of confusion, but a reaction to the strange weather in Los Angeles. That got me thinking about the range of intensity of all emotions, and how different events can leave you feeling different levels of one emotion (a hurtful confusion versus a curious confusion). Then I thought about how living in the unknown can be very powerful. Being dazed and confused can be unsettling, but when I find myself in that state I remind myself that as long as I persevere there is clarity at the other side:



Episode 12: "Bill Murray" by Phantogram
Mood: Dazed and confused
Location: Vista Hermosa Natural Park
Videographer: Selina Ruthe

Mood Mondays - Episode 10

Even though we're releasing Mood Mondays - Episode 20 today, I'll be posting older episodes onto my blog starting with where we left off (Episode 10).

I like looking back and remembering what head space I was in during specific episodes/weeks. Back in July, I was wanting to journey down a new path. And 10 weeks later, after a multitude of experiences (good and bad), I still feel very much excited about shifting my career trajectory.

Especially after The Unique CAMP (more on my experience later), I feel confident and energetic about where I want to take myself with dance and choreography.

So without further ado, here is a mood I felt over two months ago and a feeling I still feel to this very day:

Episode 10: "Easy (Switch Remix)" by Son Lux ft. Lorde
Mood: Ready to Journey Down a New Path
Location: Griffith Park
Videographer: Selina Ruthe

Braxon vs. Oregon: A Life Changing Trial

The U.S. justice system is unfamiliar territory to me. I've eluded jury duty for the past seven years, I've never been arrested, and I've yet to be tied up in a legal battle. There is something mysterious about the courtroom setting, and my lack of experience has kept me intrigued.

So imagine my excitement when I was summoned this year to serve as a juror for a major murder trial taking place in San Francisco, CA. The case asks some impossible questions surrounding love, the meaning of family, and morality versus legality. It is emotional and complex, and has thus far been a life changing experience.

Okay. Maybe I'm talking about a fictional trial.

Braxon vs. Oregon is Entity Contemporary Dance's inaugural full length show. It premiered at the Hudson Backstage Theatre in Los Angeles, CA in November 2014. After four sold out shows, the production went on to do five more sold out encore performances in January 2015. To quote LA Weekly, Braxon vs. Oregon is a "contemporary dance drama... examining Annette Braxon, who is brought to trial after assisting the suicide of a loved one suffering from a terminal illness."


The production seamlessly integrates intricate and powerful choreography into the story and avoids being cheesy or confusing. Directors and choreographers Marissa Osato and Will Johnston manage to physicalize human emotions in a relatable yet artistic way. Braxon vs. Oregon demonstrates how "commercial" dance qualities can meet the concert world. While dynamic and musical, there is an abstract quality to the movement. Marissa and Will tell a passionate story with a clear and defined voice.


And now, Braxon vs. Oregon is headed to the Bay Area. This is very exciting for a multitude of reasons, one of them being that it is a step toward our goal of making Entity Contemporary Dance a touring company. This run of shows in SF is an opportunity for us to introduce our work to a non-LA audience.


Furthermore, it gives me the opportunity to be a part of the magic. I was out of town during the LA premiere in 2014, and I wasn't in the encore performances earlier this year. I was so ecstatic when I found out we were taking the show up north, and to my hometown no less.

Rehearsal on 9/30

I know there are plenty of things to do in San Francisco on any given weekend, and October 10-11 is no exception. You could attend the San Francisco Dance Film Festival or the 5th Annual Yerba Buena Night. Both are fine ways to spend an evening, but I urge you to consider attending Braxon vs. Oregon at the Dance Mission Theater.

Braxon vs. Oregon is a master piece created by two of Southern California's freshest choreographers, and features some of Los Angeles' most talented dancers. We've even recruited the multi-talented and captivating MATT CADY, who most recently contributed choreography to Madonna's Rebel Heart Tour, as our judge.

This production is really not one to be missed. After all, it will be my first time stepping into a court room.

Join me, won't you?

For more information on Entity Contemporary Dance, visit www.entitycontemporarydance.com
Instagram: @entitycontemporarydance
Twitter: @bzentity
Facebook: Entity Contemporary Dance 

Feeling Ready to Fly

Every young chick must one day learn to fly. But even when it believes its ready to spread its wings, something can prevent it from taking the leap. It could be a lack of confidence or an unwillingness to leave the comforts of its nest. It could even be that the chick has no idea where to go once it takes off.

As a semi-young person currently experiencing what can only be described as her quarter life crisis, it's surprising to me how much I can relate to that young chick. The desire to spread my wings and to journey off into a completely new place has never been stronger. Despite this, something inside of me is keeping me from taking that dive. I don't know where exactly I want to fly to next, I don't have a flight path mapped out, and the skies are cloudy and gray. All signs say, "Wait".

While the last thing I want to do is wait, I remind myself that sometimes conditions simply aren't ideal. Being patient will pay off eventually, and this is true for all kinds of flights, metaphorical or not.

Back in March, I had this crazy idea that I wanted to skydive for my 25th birthday. I was able to wrangle up four brave friends, two of whom are terrified of heights, to go with me. On the date of our original dive (sometime in April), I received the sad sad news that our dive was cancelled due to poor weather conditions.

Instead of letting the cancellation ruin our day, my friend Will and I decided to utilize our Six Flags Magic Mountain annual passes:

Warmed up with the beastliest of beasts: X2

Now fast forward to June 4, the day of our rescheduled jump. This time we had a full day of adrenaline planned: go to Magic Mountain at 10A, play until 2P, and then head to our skydive appointment at 5P. I mentally prepared myself, and even notified my family.

But June Gloom reared its ugly head, and the lovely people at Skydive Coastal California had to again cancel our jump due to poor weather conditions. And again, we went to Magic Mountain:

The day we experienced Twisted Colossus 

Hardened by our disappointing experiences with last minute cancellations, we were slightly pessimistic about our June 29 jump date. But I was still so amped up about the jump that I dedicated a Mood Monday to it:

Episode 9: "Ringtones" by Xiu Xiu (Remixed by Superhumanoids)
Mood: Ready to fly
Location: Barnsdall Art Park
Videographer: Selina Ruthe

The whittled down group of three jumpers (Will, CJ, and me) again made plans to play at Magic Mountain in the morning and then to head to our skydive in Camarillo in the afternoon. We checked our phones all morning for that cancellation call, but it never came.

When we pulled up to the skydive location, a part of me still had this inkling that our jump would be cancelled because of extraneous circumstances. It wasn't until we were flying thousands of feet in the air in a tiny airplane did it dawn on me that it was all really happening.

#emotions
And before I knew it, I was standing on a tiny metal plank at the edge of the airplane:


I felt a variety of emotions throughout the dive; it wasn't just a simple adrenaline rush. The initial part of the jump was a bit terrifying, but the moments before the parachute released were exciting and powerful. I felt like I was flying intentionally as opposed to falling erratically. Once the chute opened, I felt euphoric.




I had thought a long time about skydiving before even calling Skydive Coastal California. Even after I mustered up the courage to make the appointment, it wasn't until months later that I would finally get to jump out of an airplane.

Similarly, I have been reflecting quite a bit on my life and where I see myself in the future. I'm at a place where I'm finally being honest with myself, and even feel ready to take the next step and to jump. But there are elements beyond my control; unpredictable weather that signal it isn't the right time for me to go.

In the mean time I'll keep myself busy, and continue to prepare myself for the journey. One day the sky will clear, and everything will align. And that is the day that I will take the leap and soar.


Mood Mondays - Episode 7 and Episode 8

It seems that I've developed a terrible habit of not regularly posting descriptions and explanations of my "Mood Mondays". There's no real explanation as to why this is so, except that I've just been lazy. 

And that, coincidentally, was the mood for Episode 7. The week we filmed this episode, I was coming off a hectic week of rehearsals and projects, and didn't feel like moving to any upbeat music. I chose Youth Lagoon because Trevor Powers' muffled drawl is exactly the kind of music I would want to hear while lying in my bed and daydreaming: 
Episode 7: "Posters" by Youth Lagoon
Mood: Lazy
Location: Echo Park Lake
Videographer: Selina Ruthe

The following week I kicked it up a few notches. I heard Cayucas for the very first time on KCRW, and even caught them live in Pasadena at the KCRW Summer Nights event. Their carefree and uptempo sound transformed my mood, and I felt compelled (in a good way) to dance to their music: 
Episode 8: "Moony Eyed Walrus" by Cayucas
Mood: Optimistic
Location: Silverlake Reservoir
Videographer Selina Ruthe

Mood Mondays - Episodes 5 and 6

I know I've been slacking on updating my blog with my Mood Monday episodes, but here are the brief synopses for Episode 5 and Episode 6:

Episode 5: "H.S.K.T" by Sylvan Esso
Mood: Jittery and excited
Location: Echo Park Lake
Videographer: +Selina Ruthe 

Selina mentioned a few days prior to us filming Episode 5 how she wanted to see me do a more playful Mood Monday. And I was of course up to the challenge. We filmed this one the night before I left for my Barcelona trip, and I was naturally feeling jittery and excited. I heard Sylvan Esso for the first time on KCRW, and then caught them live at Coachella Weekend 2 late in April. Their album had been on repeat shuffle for the 2 or 3 weeks, and I immediately thought of this song because of it's upbeat tempo. 

Episode 6: "Gimme All Your Live" by Alabama Shakes
Mood: Messy and desperate
Location: Koreatown
Videographer: +Selina Ruthe 

Alabama Shakes is a strong contender for New Favorite Artist of 2015 for me. I also heard them for the first time on KCRW, and then fell head over heels in love after watching their performance at Coachella. The only way I can describe this song is through a coloring analogy: It sounds like someone coloring so intensely and passionately that it's as if the lines of the picture don't even exist. The wildness of Brittany Howard's voice is magical, rough, and beautifully desperate. 

Firsts and Seconds

Life is full of memorable first experiences: First drink, first kiss, first love.

But second experiences, while seemingly unoriginal, are unique. This can be especially true in traveling, in which a second visit can feel like a visit to a completely different city from the one in the memory bank.

Such was the case when I visited Barcelona, Spain for the second time. My first visit to beautiful Barca was about six months ago. It was a three day trip: two I spent traveling in and out of the city and one I spent mainly indoors for work. I stayed in a gorgeous luxurious hotel and got quick glimpses of the Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, and even watched a lively (albeit unimpressive) Flamenco show. It all went by in a flash, and I didn't even get to try any paella!

Sagrada Familia

Park Guell


My second time in Barcelona was about two weeks ago, when I visited the city to teach and judge for Urban Display 2015. Already in its 19th year, Urban Display began as Spain's first hip-hop dance competition and has since grown to be the nation's largest and most popular event of the year:



Packed audience

If you know me, you know that I tend not to feel anything before leaving for a big trip. I try not to project any expectations on how much or little fun I'll have. However, my emotions before this particular trip were all over the place.

On one hand, I was really excited to be teaching abroad for the very first time (here I must go on a slight tangent and give a huge thank you to Jillian Meyers for believing in me). On the other hand, I was very nervous by the fact that, unlike my friends Vinh, Mike, and Paul, I'm not well-known internationally. I was unsure if the students would like my choreography, or if they would even be able to pick it up. I figured the workshop would be mainly hip-hop dancers,  and decided to teach this Flume/Chet Faker piece (it's kind of hip-hoppy right?):



My worries weren't completely unfounded, but I did end up having a great time teaching. The language barrier was a problem only to the extent that many of the non-movement based lessons that I wanted to impart (those pertaining to trying new things and letting go of inhibitions) might've flown straight over the students' heads.

After our classes on the first day, we judged over 250 numbers over the next two days. The participants ranged from beginners at 6 years old, to professional dancers in their mid-20's, all the way up to parents and grandparents in their 60's! The dancers' passion and love for dance was insanely transparent. And I think it was this mutual love that bolstered the camaraderie between competing groups, despite it being a rigorous competition. Also surprising was how grateful the participants were for getting any place, whether it was 1, 2 or 3. Seeing their excitement and tears, I myself nearly cried a few times during the award ceremonies:





Aside from the work being different, there was something else about this Barcelona trip that made it unlike the first. I think that because I had already seen the touristy spots during my first visit, I had little desire to go out of my way to see them again. Additionally, because of our jam packed schedule, I spent about 90% of my time with my friends and the organizer, Sarah.

Sarah was like our tour guide sent from heaven during the trip. She took really good care of us, and made sure we experienced some wonderful local spots including VinitusWoki Organic Market, and Jamboree. I was really grateful to her for her hospitality and generosity throughout the trip:

Vinh, Mike, Sarah, myself, and Paul

My second visit to Barcelona couldn't have been more different from the first. The city and its people embraced me with a warmer hug, and even showed me a side of itself seldom shown to first time visitors. Barca had shed its flashy exterior, and treated me not as a stranger but as a returning friend.

Alas, I again failed to have authentic Spanish paella. But you know what they say, third times a charm. 

Mood Mondays - Episode 4

When I first heard Forest Gump say his infamous quote on life and chocolates, I didn't find it to be particularly true. "Life is like a box of chocolates," he says. "You never know what you're going to get."

But when I think about it now, the quote couldn't be closer to the truth. Each day in my life is like a single little morsel of chocolate. It can be full of yummy gooey caramel (amazing!), but it can also be filled with cloyingly sweet banana flavored cream (awful!).

And sometimes a banana flavored cream filled chocolate is so awful that even after I've reluctantly swallowed it, I can't get the terrible memory of the flavor out of my mind. I dwell on it so much that everything I eat seems to also be flavored like artificially sweetened banana cream.

Similarly, sometimes one singular event in a day can cause so much sadness that even after the moment has passed, I can't stop thinking about it or feeling sad. It's like I've transformed into Eeyore, in which a storm cloud follows me every step I take.


Episode 4 of Mood Mondays was filmed after an event that was really heartbreaking for me. While I won't go into detail about what happened, I hope that my movement was enough to demonstrate my emotions at the time. You can watch the full version on Vimeo at this link, or watch the slightly shortened and lower quality Blogger version:

Episode 4: "Station" by Lapsley
Mood: Heartbroken and defeated
Location: Silverlake, CA
Videographer: Selina Ruthe

Mood Mondays - Episode 3

If you haven't yet, why not take a moment to check out the latest episode in my freestyle series, "Mood Mondays":


Episode 3: "Space Is Only Noise If You Can See" by Nicolas Jaar
Mood: Spacey and blobby
Location: Elysian Park, CA 
Videographer: Selina Ruthe 

In this episode, I'm not sure if my mood informed the song choice or if the song choice guided my mood. Whatever the case, I hope that I successfully conveyed to you the idea of being spacey and blobby! 

Mood Mondays - Episode 2

Mondays usually go by in a flash. Do you remember how you were feeling on any particular Monday? 

I definitely do, as demonstrated by last week's episode (Episode 2) of my new passion project, "Mood Mondays": 
Episode 2: "All Day" by Kanye West
Mood: Powering through exhaustion
Location: Silverlake, CA 
Videographer: Selina Ruthe 

Here's a little refresher on what "Mood Mondays" is:

"Every week, I choose a different song that demonstrates my mood in that particular moment and freestyle to it. As mentioned in my last post: "The purpose of these videos isn't to help me show off big fancy tricks (because let's be real, I don't have any). Instead, these videos provide a way for me to practice purposeful freestyling."

I've always been attracted to songs with heavy beats and that have more aggressive undertones. So when I first heard this track I was really interested in knowing how I could move to it in my own way. 

Yeezy's raps exudes angst and struggle, and it matched really well with how I was feeling in that moment. There were specific moments that really caught my attention, like the way he says: 

I don't let them play with me,
I don't let them talk to me no kind of way
They better watch what they say to me

That was definitely a moment that I found to be particularly fun to make movement to. 

Another big part of this video is the man of the house and ruler of the apartment, Charlie the dog: 
Charlie doing what he does best
Charlie always seems to be struggling through a little exhaustion, so it only seemed appropriate that he be a part of last Monday's video. 

Stay tuned for this week's Mood Mondays on my Youtube Channel!

Mood Mondays

Freestyle.

When I hear that word I immediately think of the dancing that goes on in those human-made circles at various dance and/or social functions. Usually freestyle circles are dominated by urban dancers whose strengths include hip hop, break dancing, popping, locking, etc. More often than not they look like this:


Freestyle circles are a lot of fun, but my involvement in them is usually limited to that of a very enthusiastic observer. This is mainly because my free style doesn't look anything like that demonstrated in the above video. I'm not sure how well my natural movement inclinations fit with a song like, "Partition".  I don't think I "go off" in the conventional way when "B*!@# 'Betta Have My Money" comes on, I don't practice freestyle dancing very often, and I don't feel comfortable doing it in front of large audiences.

A still of what I look like freestyling
But in all honesty, I love free style dancing.

Recently, a talented friend, Mason Cutler, started posting #freedancefriday clips on Instagram. I was blown away (please do yourself a favor and watch some of his work); his style has elements of hip hop intertwined with his own quirky way of moving. After seeing his videos I was super motivated to practice and develop my own freestyle vocabulary.

So that's when my friend Selina and I conceptualized a new series called, "Mood Mondays". The premise is this: Every week I'll choose a different song that embodies my mood and then freestyle dance to it.

The purpose of these videos isn't to help me show off big fancy tricks (because let's be real, I don't have any). Instead, these videos provide a way for me to practice purposeful freestyling.

So without further ado, I am pleased to share with you Episode 1 of our Mood Mondays series:



Episode 1: "Leave Off / The Cave" by Jose Gonzalez
Mood: Sunny and free
Location: Elysian Park, Echo Park
Videographer: Selina Ruthe

When You Hear Those Little Demons

When you live in LA and do what I do, you can sometimes hear little demons inside your head. They say things like, "You're not good enough. You're not pretty enough. You're not this enough. You're not that enough." And sometimes, if you're like me, you wish you could pull those little demons out of your head and fight them head on. 

I imagine that if that could ever happen, this is what it would look like: 




But unfortunately for me, that above pseudo battle scene against imaginary demons is not a reality. I can't get rid of negative thoughts simply by ripping them up with my bare hands and throwing them away like trash. Like rubbish. Like unwanted matter. 


Where the little demons come from: 
It might be hard for someone on the outside looking in to know what it is that dancers/artists like me go through. Yes, I am the perfect example of the worn out Generation Y catchphrases: I am "living my dreams" and "doing what I love". However, in doing what I love for a living I am wholly invested in the results. I take every compliment, criticism, or judgement personally


No, it's not the most psychologically nurturing profession per se. But then again, a lot of my internal struggles are probably self-induced. It's ironic that someone like me who is outwardly conflict-averse can feel so much inner turmoil. When I dig deep enough, I can pin it on two lines of thinking: 1) Hard work and talent lead to inevitable success and 2) Always strive to be the best. 


1) Hard work and talent lead to inevitable success

Between the ages of around 14-23, and especially while I was studying at UCLA, I applied this method to everything from school assignments to dance auditions. My logic went like this:


If my work is good enough I get an "A" (success) and if my work is not good enough I get less than an "A" (fail).


If I'm a good enough dancer I book the job (success) and if I'm not a good enough dancer I don't book the job (fail).

Unfortunately, as hard as it was for my naive 18 year old self to believe, the industry is not wholly meritocratic. When my previous theory of success in the industry finally unraveled, I became hyper-aware of my appearance as a huge factor in job bookings. So now, my logic went like this:



If I'm [pretty, skinny, a good dancer, PERFECT] I book the job (success) and if I'm [ugly, not-fit enough, a bad dancer, NOT PERFECT] I don't book the job (fail).

With this new line of thinking, I saw "failure" not only as commentary on my skills but also as a personal jab at me. It's as if someone was saying that they don't like me. It's not my work, not my project, not my proposal. It's me. 

And the worst part is, I never knew what part of me the hiring committee didn't like. Unlike most normal job interviews after which one can follow up with an email or phone call, there isn't standard post-audition protocol. As such, there have been countless auditions that I've been through that have broken my heart and left me wondering whether I was: too short, too youthful looking, too slender, not slender enough, etc. The list of self-deprecating descriptions is never ending in show business, and made even longer by those inner demons that normally lie dormant in my head. Doesn't sound too healthy, does it? 

2) Always strive to be the best

It's healthy to be driven and to strive to accomplish great things. When I was growing up, there were clear goals in school and in dance for me to aim for: straight A's, student body president, title awards at dance competitions, first overall, etc. My improvements could be measured by my achievements, and I was given validation for my efforts through these material recognitions.


Me and Brian Friedman in 2008 when I won Pulse Elite Protege 
My UCLA diploma. Finished in the top 5% of my graduating class! 
Finished this half marathon in 1:37:36. First woman in my age group!

After I graduated from college and entered the commercial dance industry, I had fewer interactions with the types of people and activities that I felt gave my hard work any value. Those original metrics were replaced with things like Youtube views, Instagram likes, and job bookings. I'm neither a Youtube celebrity nor am I "instafamous", so that left me with job bookings. The only way I could tell whether or not I was "doing a good job" and excelling in my field was by how much I worked. It's intuitive right?

How to fight those little demons:

Nearly seven years have passed since my first day in Los Angeles, and nearly two months have passed since returning home from one of the (if not the) greatest professional experiences of my life. I figured after all of that, after all of the different experiences I've had in the industry, I would feel more confident in myself. I thought that by now my twisted view of the way my bookings/non-bookings in the industry corresponded to my worth would have morphed. Maybe I've taken a step forward and away from making everything so personal.

But a few weeks ago I attended an audition for a job that I was very excited about. I felt I had done amazingly (potential success), only to find out I didn't book the job (fail). All of a sudden, I was engulfed in an overwhelming feeling of disappointment. I started analyzing and second guessing every decision I had made that day: What did I wear? How did I do my hair? Did I dance too hard? Had I not danced hard enough? Just like that, I was back at square one. They say a tiger cannot change its stripes, and the competitive side of me wondered why I hadn't beat out the competition.  


It's a terrible circumstance, having one's self-esteem tied to a turbulent work environment. In one day, I can go from feeling like I am standing at the top of the highest mountain to feeling like I am sinking to the lowest depths of the darkest ocean. So it turns out that while many things have changed since I was 18 years old, the way I internalize "failures" is still very much the same. Now what?


The answer to that question is one that I still am trying to find out for myself. For the record, I don't feel this way about everything I audition for. There are certain projects that I get really excited about, and the mere idea of the opportunity is enough to get my hopes up. So I suppose it's just a matter of me managing my expectations. That's Tool Number 1 to defeating those little demons. Tool Number 2 is finding other ways to measure my worth and value in the creative world. This includes being more diligent in nurturing my other interests like choreographing, teaching, doing yoga, and visual design.



Spent the day at MOCA on Grand Ave. last week


Teaching flier for class at Edge PAC

Tool Number 3, and perhaps the most vital one of them all, is openly discussing my disappointments with loved ones. I've realized that in verbalizing my thoughts I shine a bright light on those demons that dwell in the darkest corners of my mind. My family and friends help me identify exactly what causes my negative emotions and help me find ways to change that mentality. It's like aiming before pulling the trigger.



The most supportive family


The greatest lady friends

At this point in my career, I know I've accomplished plenty to be proud of. But I don't care about what I've done in the past. I'm much more concerned with what I'm going to do in the future. I'm looking for the next project to work on. The next marathon to run. The next way to be better than I was yesterday.


I'm determined.


My determination is one of my greatest strengths, but if I'm not careful it will also become my achilles' heel. Those little inner demons are a byproduct of my determination. And even though seven years in this demoralizing yet beautiful city was not enough time for me to build mental immunity to their cruelties, I've FINALLY realized that I have the means to combat them (Tools 1, 2, and 3).


Who knows if and when I'll ever be rid of them but for now I'll be fighting, one battle at a time. 

#AdventureswithKaren: Adventures in LA

After traveling and adventuring around the world for about eight months in 2014, the question I am most often asked since being back in Los Angeles is:

"Where was your favorite place?"

and the answer I most often use is:

"Oh gosh, every city was so different and unique. I don't know if I can choose just one!"

Some people see this as an easy way to avoid answering the question. But truthfully, I don't know if I have a strong opinion on any city in particular. The whole traveling abroad experience was surreal, and each moment in each new city was refreshing and exciting.


Athens, Greece

Tokyo, Japan

What makes it even more challenging to have a definite favorite is that I only had a few hours in some places compared to a few days in others. My memories of some cities include only the paths on which I jogged or the interior decor of hotel rooms in which I stayed. Because of that, I feel like my opinion is not as developed or informed as it should be.

Bored in some hotel somewhere in Europe

So let's skip that question.  Instead, let's talk about something else that I realized during my time abroad.

September 2015 will mark my seventh (let me repeat, seventh) year in Los Angeles, and my third year living on the Eastside (though Silverlake is hardly the Eastside, according to some). Despite my seemingly long tenure here in the city of angels, there are actually quite a few places I have yet to visit  (like the MOCA) and quite a few things I have yet to experience (like hiking the Escondido Falls in Malibu). I haven't done nearly as much exploring in the seven years I've lived in LA as I did in the two months I spent in Europe. How embarrassing it is to realize that I am a stranger to my own city!

There is a variety reasons for this lack of enthusiasm over the years for adventuring in Los Angeles including being too focused on school and dance, putting too much pressure on myself to be "productive" with my time, etc. But all of that excuse-making ends today!

Hopefully I can maintain the same spirit of adventure and exploration in this new year. Join me, won't you?

First #AdventureswithKaren back in LA at the Bootleg Bar

#AdventureswithKaren: Episode Europe Part 2

Part 2 of my #AdventureswithKaren in Europe is long over due. But as they say, "Better late than never!" Here are some highlights of the second part of my journey around Europe:

Manchester, UK:
The Northern Quarter is where all the awesome vintage shops are located. Afflecks gets a lot of hype and is a neat building to shop in, but I can't say that it's my all time favorite. The Northern Quarter is home to much better vintage boutiques including: We are CowVintage, Retro Rehab, and Pop Boutique.

Northern Quarter 

London, UK: 
Always a personal must-see is Brick Lane. The vintage shopping is excellent and the buildings are covered with art and murals:

Brick Lane

Paris, France: 
Of all of the tourist destinations in the world, Paris is likely to be a fan favorite for many. It has something for everyone to be excited about, from beautiful architecture and historical landmarks to museums (contemporary or otherwise) and amusement parks. I tried to fit a little bit of everything in during my visit:  

Arc de Triomphe

Love Lock Bridge

Disneyland Paris


Catacombs

I really enjoyed the Centre Pompidou, a five story contemporary art museum in Le Marais:


Centre Pompidou

The Louis Vuitton Foundation Center was visually stunning, and I really appreciated that they had a whole exhibit dedicated to the building's architect, Frank Gehry. The rest of the museum was a bit lackluster, and I'm not sure it was worth the 14 euro entrance fee. I would suggest simply to walk around the beautiful Jardin d'Acclimatation and take in the Louis Vuitton Foundation Center's beauty from the outside.

Louis Vuitton Foundation

Vienna, Austria: 
Something that really surprised me about Vienna was the prevalence of middle eastern food. The kebab stand's ubiquity in Vienna is similar to that of the Starbucks cafe in Manhattan. I was able to sample a few falafel boxes during my visit and was quite impressed.

Equally as impressive was the Museumsquartier, a 60,000 square meter area that is home to a variety of art museums including the MUMOK and Kundsthalle Wien (both of which were outstanding):


Mumok (Museum of Contemporary Arts)

Though the Museumsquartier is not to be missed, there are other sites in Vienna that are equally as astounding. The architecture there is grand, unique, and above all, breathtaking. There are buildings as luxurious as the Belvedere Palace, and as eclectic as the Hundertwasserhaus:



Belvedere Palace

Hundertwasserhaus

I didn't think Vienna would be so impressive a city, but I was pleasantly surprised by what it had to offer. 

Milan, Italy:
I had high expectations for my visit to Milan, but was unfortunately underwhelmed. The main attraction in town, was the Duomo di Milano:

Duomo de Milano

I did rather enjoy shopping in 10 Corso Como, a well curated art/design/fashion space. I couldn't afford anything on display, however, and left empty-handed after deciding against buying an 80 euro canvas tote bag. In retrospect, it was the right decision.

Zurich, Switzerland:
What I'll remember most about Zurich was its high cost of living. Public transportation was navigable, but sure did eat away at my budget. A simple salad at Tibits cost me a whopping $18, and even the HMxALEXANDERWANG pieces I purchased were somewhere between 20-30% more expensive than the listed US prices. I also wish that it hadn't been so rainy and cold when I visited:

Old Town



Barcelona, Spain:
Alas, my greatest regret about my trip to Barcelona was failing to try authentic paella. I know! It's embarrassing to admit such a blasphemy (especially to my foodie friends) but I should like to think that it gives me a reason to go back. And if not just to taste the famed rice dish, then certainly to see these beautiful places again:

Sagrada Familia

Parc Guell



Lisbon, Portugal:
What I enjoyed most about Lisbon was not the fado music or the steep and windy streets of Alfama (Lisbon's old quarter):




but the surprisingly strong vegetarian/vegan community. There was an abundance of meat-free cafes and restaurants in town, and my favorite was The Green Room:


And of course, I explored a few of the main tourist attractions:

Castle of San Jorge




Newcastle, UK:

Glasgow, Scotland:
If you told me earlier this year that there was plenty to do and see in Glasgow, Scotland I probably wouldn't have believed you. But there is in fact quite a bit more to experience in this unassuming city besides kilt shops and bars.

Just a mile outside of the city center is a charming tea house, Tchai Ovna, where you can drink endless cups of exotic teas from all over the world while playing board games (or in my case, dots). You can eat a delicious meal at the Centre for Contemporary Arts or walk among some old Victorian tombstones at the Necropolis. For those of you who are more adventurous at heart, you can even take an hour long bus ride to Loch Lomond and hike in the lush national park:


Loch Lomond


My adventures in  Europe lasted about 2 months, and there are still quite a few places I didn't get to. Hopefully my next adventures will take me to all the cities I missed! 

#AdventureswithKaren: Episode Santorini

Ever since I moved to Los Angeles in September 2008, I've been apprehensive about leaving town. I was convinced that the moment I stepped away was the moment I would be called for a big audition or a job opportunity. Even taking trips home to the Bay Area (a whopping one hour away via plane) made me anxious. 

But just a few weeks ago, a virtually guilt free opportunity for me to indulge in a vacation finally presented itself. I, along with three other gal pals, took a five day four night trip to Santorini, Greece. 

I'll be honest. I was only vaguely aware of Santorini's status as one of the top summer vacation spots in the world. But I knew that the group going was a group of wonderful ladies, so it didn't matter where we were headed. And boy, was I in for a sweet treat. While we technically had five days, the first and last days were strictly reserved for travel (it took us three flights to get to and from the island) thus allowing for only three full days of Santorini fun:

Day 1:
Our charming villa in Kamari was right on the beach, and I was able to enjoy my breakfast oceanside while lounging on a comfy beach chair. I've never experienced such unobstructed views or clear sounds of the ocean before; I was astonished by how long I sat out there, just staring at the water: 

Breakfast by the ocean
The rest of the afternoon was spent roaming around the narrow shopping streets of Thera, the main town on the island. We stuck to the pedestrian paths next to the Santorini Clock Tower, which eventually led us to a vantage point that revealed a stunning view of the city:






As the afternoon slowly dipped into the early evening, we made our way to the next town over, Oia (pronounced "EE-YAH"). The town had very similar mix of retail shops as that of Thera, and most of the stores sold either kitschy souvenirs, local products, or jewelry. I was happy to stumble upon Atlantis Books, and browsed through their small but thorough selection:

Atlantis Books

But we weren't in Oia to shop. In fact, we were in Oia for one reason and one reason only: To watch the sunset. Heeding the advice from several locals (including our host family from our villa in Kamari), we sat down for dinner at a restaurant that boasted, "the most amazing view of the sunset":


A little wine with the sunset, please

Day 2:
The next day, we went on a Santorini Sea Excursion boat tour to see more of the island. Clad in all white linen outfits, we cruised around on the Mediterranean Sea in a pirate ship styled boat:







The tour stopped at four destinations: the island of Nea Kameni (a volcano), Palia Kameni (a hot spring), Thirassia (a beach town), and Oia. We ended the day at a cozy open air bar with a pitcher of fresh sangria and watched the sunset: 




Day 3:
We began our last full day in Santorini by taking a long run/walk to Ancient Thera. It was literally an uphill battle since approximately half of the way there (about a mile and a half) was a steep incline. It was tough, but the view was worth it:


Our next activity was no less extreme. I didn't believe it at first, but four-wheeling (quad bike) is a common form of transportation for Santorini tourists. There are rental businesses everywhere, and the cost is pretty decent. For 32 euros you can rent a large two person quad bike for the day. The four of us grabbed two sturdy quads and set off to explore. We made it to the Red Sand Beach, the Black Sand Beach, Akrotiri (ancient town), and eventually Thera: 

Biker babes



Black Sand Beach

Akrotiri

Up until that point we had thought that Oia was the only place on the island with clear views of the sunset. But we discovered during dinner that they were no less beautiful in Thera. There was also the added bonus that the area was deserted (probably since everyone else was in Oia):


Miscellaneous discoveries: 
The food on the island was delicious, and I have very fond memories of hearty fava beans, fresh cucumber and tomato salads, and warm nutty brown breads. But perhaps the tastiest thing I ate during the trip was a fig sorbet. As someone who is lactose intolerant, I avoid ice cream at all costs. So imagine how ecstatic I was when the one dangerous and often avoided dessert option suddenly became available to me again, and this time in the flavor of one of my favorite fruits?

Round one, in a cup

Round two, in a cone
Also notable (but not quite as exciting) was the number of stray dogs we saw on the island. Not only were they stray and well-behaved, but they were also incredibly cute:


It took a little over an hour for me to summarize the main moments from this trip, but the memories that we made together in those short five days will certainly last me a lifetime. Thank you to the three beautiful women who made the trip unforgettable, and even more gratitude to the beautiful island of Santorini for hosting my first vacation in six years.