Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Awesome Threesome

(This originally appeared as a two-part article in my column in the Port Hawkesbury Reporter...I'm posting it here so that Amy and Roxanne can read it, should they so choose.)
(Which they will, I wager.)

It’s funny how one song can bring back so many memories. It happened to me yesterday. Though the memory was from long ago, I encounter this particular brand of nostalgia quite often, truth be told. After all, it’s not every girl who can claim to have been a hip-hop dancer in a touring dance group.

Yes – you read that right.

I’m not entirely sure what led to the formation of our group, as it were. I won’t claim to have started it, nor, I don’t believe, would either of the other two founding members (Amy Doary and Roxanne Beaulieu). All I know is that one minute we were just your average, everyday 11- and 12-year-olds, making our way through grade six at the River Bourgeois School, and the next minute we were smack dab in the middle of a reign as the foremost pre-teen dance trio in Richmond County. It was quite a meteoric rise to fame, I must say.

We three had been friends since grade primary, and we spent all our free time together. We liked to think we had our fingers firmly on the pulse of popular music, and I suppose we did to a great extent, inasmuch as knowing who Mariah Carey was could be considered knowledge. Like any other girls our age, we would dance around, usually in Amy’s basement, to whichever fare Samantha Taylor was peddling on Video Hits. I can’t recall when things went from recreational to professional, but it was at some point in 1990.

What you have to understand about the now-extinct River Bourgeois School, especially if you never had the occasion to attend, is that there were two separate and very distinct cultures – upstairs and downstairs. While I plan to devote an entire column to this topic in the near future, suffice it for now to say that the upstairs people spent the entirety of their upstairs lives (which, incidentally, lasted from grade primary to grade six) in a seemingly never-ending quest to graduate to grade seven and become a downstairs student.

As you might imagine, never was this quest as arduous as for people in grade six. We could see those grade seven and eight girls parading around in their acid washed jean jackets and Vaurnet shirts and hair scrunchies, and we were no different than they were, save for which area of the school we were allowed to parade them in. And if we were going to be stuck playing our Bananarama tapes upstairs, well then, we were going to do it on our own terms, dammit.

So we set up shop in the bathroom.

In hindsight, that upstairs bathroom probably wasn’t even as big as my current living room (and actually, if anyone reading this has a picture or knows the dimensions, I’d be very interested to find out). Regardless, it was the hub of the upstairs; apart from the toilets and sinks, there was an open area off to the side which served as a kind of meeting place for little girls to congregate between classes. As luck would have it, it was equipped with an electrical outlet.

Do you remember those heavy, silver ghetto-blasters with the red “record” button? I know you do, everybody had one. Every recess and lunch we would borrow the one from the teacher’s lounge and Super Ladies of the 80s would echo through the halls. In that bathroom, and with that ghetto blaster, we honed our craft.

If I had to describe it, I’d say our early work was a combination of Janet Jackson mimicry (we were obsessed with copying the choreography from the “If” video right down to the last Running Man) and outtakes from The Mickey Mouse Club television performances. We fed off each other and, in an effort to best each other’s dance moves and perfect the copied ones, we created a style all our own. In future interviews it would be referred to as “hip-hop jazz style dancing”, but I hate to use labels; we’ll just say it was very of-the-moment and leave it at that.

We had no idea those early bathroom practice sessions would spawn a year-long reign at the top of the River Bourgeois School social pyramid and the beginning of a cultural juggernaut which would later be known as The Awesome Threesome.

I was going to save all this flowery information for the vH1 Behind the Music special, but since I know you’re all waiting with bated breath, I’ll finish spinning this tale next week.

If I can stop laughing.


Now, where did I leave off? Oh yes, the bathroom.

It was 1990 and me and my two best friends, also 11 years old, unknowingly thrust ourselves headlong into the world of professional dance by way of copying music videos in our elementary school bathroom. You are now officially up to speed (and only slightly less fortunate if you missed part one).

Every morning recess and lunch hour we would practice, until we found the square footage of our bathroom practice space to be limiting our endeavors. Our French teacher, Madame Boudreau, had taken a keen interest in our ambitions, and was kind enough to offer up her classroom for us to use during breaks.

As it turns out, this venue change was exactly the motivation we needed to get organized. We were a close-knit group of girls (especially considering there were only seven of us in our grade) and no way were we going to share any aspect of our idea with outsiders. Aside from us three dancers, we enlisted the help of Leah-Anne to be our manager – largely a ceremonial role with non-specific duties, though no less prestigious than the title suggests. Joanie was our wardrobe consultant, Kelly was our communications liaison and the rest of the girls (or maybe all of us) share responsibility for naming the group.

Honestly, what can I even say about that situation. We were only eleven. Let’s just let it go.

The condition attached to Mme. Boudreau’s offer was this: if we were going to use her classroom to practice, she would give us something to practice for. We were given a spot in a school variety concert – the pressure was on. What song would we choose? Which moves would we showcase? What on earth would we wear?!

I suppose the song choice would be easy enough: “The World Just Keeps on Turning” by Candy and the Backbeat was the only completed routine we had choreographed and memorized. The routine itself would be a compilation of our best dance moves, perfected and practiced ad nauseum.

The wardrobe decisions were a bit more complex. Fashion in the 90’s was a crapshoot, especially for a junior high school student from a small town. We had terrible ideas and followed even worse examples from television, and the results were cataclysmic. Never was there a better example of bad taste than our very first performance outfit.

The black stirrup pants were a no-brainer; back in those days, they were as an essential a wardrobe staple as a pair of blue jeans. It’s the shirt that remains a cringe-worthy image even to this day. See, our song choice somehow segued into a before-awareness-was-cool message of environmental consciousness, and with the help of Amy’s dad, who owned a screenprinting business, we became the proud new owners of florescent yellow t-shirts emblazoned with a giant globe and “Save the World” in bold font.

That was us – spiral perms, stirrup pants, and obscure pop music. The perfect storm.

While our dance career was nothing short of a community phenomenon, we remained pretty grounded throughout. Imagine our surprise when the media came to call for an interview – and promised a full page spread, with pictures, no less.

We primped (hair, clothing, dance moves, even photo backdrops) and prepped (practice questions, inspired monologues, even body language). It would be our introduction to the world beyond River Bourgeois, we thought; the first recorded account of our rise to fame.

The interview lasted somewhere in the neighborhood of ten minutes and fell far short of the Rolling Stone-esque interview we had expected. Worse yet, she dismissed our hand-painted tarpaulin backdrop in favor of taking one picture in front of Amy’s garage door.

Luckily, we had youthful optimism on our side and didn’t let the disappointing interview get us down. The exposure blossomed into a string of bookings, from variety shows to the Schools Today concert at the mall in Port Hawkesbury, our most notable showcase. We had the world at our feet, truly we did.

The sad truth is that I could go on like this for at least the duration of another article. I won’t, but I could.

I will say this: the highlight of our dance career was the day the grade seven and eight girls asked us to show them some moves. And to this day, one of my prized possessions is the laminated copy of that newspaper article, with accompanying picture.

Yellow shirts and all.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

3am Propaganda

We’ve all been there before. Sleepless, 3:00 am, flicking hopelessly through the channels. Your options are quite limited: old reruns of “Land & Sea”, mindless sitcoms you can’t concentrate on, or a worse alternative yet – infomercials.

Your better sense is always intact at the beginning. “Pfft. Yeah, right. Who would ever pay $100 for that piece of garbage? It couldn’t possibly work, could it? No, if it DID work, everyone would have one already. Of course they’re going to guarantee it, they know nobody is going to go through the trouble and expense of sending it back. What kind of a sucker is going to buy this thing in the middle of the night?”

A mere half hour later, your mind begins to betray you. “I think they just did that in real time, right in front of the camera. They juiced the life right out of that beet, without a single bit of pulp. It’s impossible to fake that, I just saw it with my own eyes. Maybe it actually DOES work. I mean, I can certainly see the appeal of such an item and how it might very well improve my dining experience and perhaps even my overall quality of life.”

“Yes, by all means, demonstrate again, trainee of Ron Popeil, so that I might be further brainwashed by the repetitiveness of your late-night propaganda. I am slowly beginning to see the value of having that fine piece of machinery joining my fleet of dust-collecting small appliances.”

Or maybe exercise equipment is your vice; “Do you want abs like Jessica Alba? A stomach like Jennifer Aniston? Buy the super-duper, state-of-the-art, aerodynamic FLOOGELBEESTER! It may look like a cheap plastic rod held together by rubber bands, but not so – the secret lies in our patented Carbon Memory Magic Foam Filtration System. We’re not sure how it works, either, but hey – Jessica Alba, remember? Phone lines are open now, don’t delay!”

It might also be a pill that sucks you in. “As seen on MSNBC and the Oprah show, introducing Suckertrophin, a revolutionary weight loss supplement designed by MIT engineers , tested by scientists at NASA, and officially endorsed by Ukrainian gymnasts and Romanian supermodels!”

“Meet Sarah (well, a mostly-true account of a person named Beulah who we'll call Sarah, as portrayed by an actress named Misty who happens to be willing to sacrifice her dignity as a thespian for the sake of the $300 she’s being paid to pretend to have ever weighed more than ninety pounds for even a single day of her life). She lost over 100lbs on the Suckertrophin system, without ever setting foot in a gym! Every morning for breakfast she eats a dozen bagels smothered in pure lard! She has chocolate sauce IV drip at her office desk! She has slow metabolism and thyroid problems and diabetes and carries the gene for morbid obesity but no worries! All she has to do is pop two Suckertrophin tablets after each meal and voila! Size 4 it is!”

Forty-five minutes and three easy payments of $29.99 later, you’re the proud owner of a fruit dehydrator or juice defragmenter or bust enhancer or other such useless contraption which will take up valuable space in your kitchen or bathroom cabinet (saying nothing of the constant cries of “I told you you’d never use that stupid thing, I can’t believe we paid $100 for it” that must be endured for months post-purchase).

(Yeah, smart ass. Because you use ALL of those 19 hammers you have out in the shed.)

(Effing husbands.)

Infomercials, I believe, were created to prey on the impressionable minds of exhausted insomniacs. At noon on a Tuesday, I could never be convinced that any one small appliance could change my life, but many times in the wee hours of the morning I have been led down that very path of ridiculous logic by Ron Popeil and his evil minions.

I’m not saying I’ve ever been sucked in by Vince the Sham-Wow guy, nor will I admit to falling victim to the Magic Bullet food mega-blender, or the Slap Chop/Graty combo. I will neither confirm nor deny the presence of hair Bump-Its, Ginsu knives, Strap Perfect bra clips, and a full set of Tae-Bo VHS tapes in my home. And I most definitely have never spent hours on eBay looking for any of these items at a lower-than-advertised cost, nor have I searched for items from decades past, like the Flowbee. No sir, not me.

I will, however, tell you one thing with certainty - I need more sleep.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Ultimate Getaway

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My friend Brandy left with her husband this morning on her dream vacation: she flew to South Carolina to see George Strait in concert. Me? I wouldn't see George Strait if he was playing in my bathroom. But this concert has been her dream for more than 15 years, and this week she gets to live it, five rows from the stage.

The thing of it is, the destination was inconsequential to Brandy. George could have been playing in Tibet or five minutes from her house, and she would have had just as much fun. This got me to thinking - what's more important in a dream vacation, where you go or what you do while you're there?

We're in the beginning stages of looking into a trip to Disneyworld in Florida. It's something we've talked about for a few years and now that our kids are a bit older, we're considering taking them on a vacation they'll always remember. It's a big investment, and it requires a lot of preparation.

Planning this Disney adventure got me to thinking about past vacations and what made them fun. In 1999, Brandy and I travelled to Cuba together. At the time, people didn't fly down to the tropics willy-nilly like they do these days, so two twenty-somethings flying down South was kind of a big deal to us. We paid a little over $700 each, which included every single thing from beginning to end, and in this particular case also speaks to the quality of the amenities we had access to.

We stayed in a room with a door that didn't close properly, and which let in bugs that were so humongous it would give you nightmares. The food was made edible only thanks to the free liquor, and the nightly entertainment was a guy with a ghetto blaster in an open-air gazebo. But did we spend a week in misery? Not a chance. We had the time of our lives and would go again in a heartbeat.

Then I thought of all the trips I've taken to Toronto with various girlfriends over the years. We stayed in nice hotels and student boarding houses and with friends. We sat around apartments watching movies, we went to concerts, and we spent entire days at Canada's Wonderland. Really, we didn't do much of anything, and still we had a fantastic time.

Since having a family, I haven't been on many vacations (I suppose by most people's standards, we haven't been on any). We've over-nighted many times but never far enough from home that we couldn't drive. Not only is it extremely expensive to travel with children, it's also intensely complicated from a packing standpoint, and oftentimes it involves more stress than relaxation.

The one time we did go on vacation, we went all out. We took the kids to every venue available, ate out every meal, and spoiled them as much as we could. We spent thousands of dollars (literally) and had nothing to show for it Monday morning except a few pictures and some serious fatigue.

The most fun we've had as a family has been on day trips, most of them a short distance from home. We drive around, usually at the spur of the moment, and find adventures along the way. We've visited waterfalls and water parks, trails and arcades, beaches and go-cart tracks, and one place has been fun in different ways than the other, yet in equal measure.

So, taking all this into account, how do you plan the ultimate family vacation? Do you concentrate on the destination or on the itinerary?

If you ask me, the answer is neither. Regardless of where you go or what you have planned, the most important part of a great vacation is who you go with. Ice cream cones and cotton candy taste pretty much the same whether you buy them at Disneyworld or at a corner store in the country. Beach water is just as wet and sand is just as sandy in Ingonish as it is in Fort Lauderdale.

We get so caught up in what we think we should be doing and where our neighbors have gone and what our friends have pictures of, that we forget to do what we’ll actually enjoy and what truly makes us happy. What makes me happy is to see my kids having fun, and I can do that without spending thousands of dollars or travelling thousands of miles from home.

It doesn't matter if you go around the world or around the county; if you're with the right people, the smiles can be just as big and the memories will be just as fond.


Don't forget to enter the “Do What You Love” Sweepstakes, for a chance to win your own ultimate family vacation. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.