Thursday, 13 September 2012

Post Surgery Blog – Part 2 - Through the Looking Glasses and Out The Other Side

*Technical note:  As much as I’m conscious of no longer having glasses on my face, and that people are now treating me differently, I am struggling with the written word and with verb usage around this issue.  After a lifetime of wearing glasses and being treated accordingly, I forget I am not being faced with the same discrimination on a daily basis, so writing this blog piece has been deeply challenging for me, grammatically speaking.   I’ve tried to proof-read this to correct for verb tenses issues (“was” vs. “is”, etc) and I hope I caught them all.  Just another example of how much my life has changed. 

As much as I chose to have the LASIK eye surgery to improve my vision and therefore my overall health, I also had it largely to improve my social interactions and my career prospects. 

As someone who has had no choice but to wear glasses my entire life I was very well aware that they were in many cases my sole identifier to other people.  I was “the girl with the glasses”.  No further description or name needed.  They often served as permission for people to treat me according to stereotypes and TV tropes, and excuse themselves from having to learn anything about me as a real person.  I was a living caricature to most people.

The greatest proof of this throughout my life has been when I hear the ominous Tone-of-Surprise in someone’s voice when they express something positive about me.   The real insults always came from people I had gotten to know a little and who were misguidedly trying to compliment me.  Statements like “Wow, you’re actually really pretty” or “Wow, you’re not a nerd at all” or “Wow, you’re actually a very cool person” are incredibly telling about other people’s assumptions and biases.  And I got those kinds of comments CONSTANTLY when I wore glasses. 

I know some of you are thinking these things are compliments.  And to the people who’ve said these things to me over my lifetime, they were intended as compliments.  I have no doubt of that.  But what these tone-of-surprise statements prove is that I was in a deficit position in other people’s eyes to begin with.  Regardless of any facts about me I have been in a position of less than normal, of inferiority on certain standards, when I made a first impression on people.  That would be fine if this aspect of my appearance was within my ability to control, but up until December 29th, 2011 when I had my eye surgery, there was nothing I could do. 

People often told me to look on the bright side, and see how many positive stereotypes there are about people with glasses, to focus on the positive.  First of all, there are no truly positive stereotypes.  Even if the comment is flattering, being pigeon-holed is not!  Being told that I looked “smart” because I wore glasses actually grated on me worse than the so-called negative stereotypes.   First of all, being smart is not caused by a disease or dysfunction of vision.  DUH!!!  It’s shocking how many people I met over the years really, truly believed that my glasses made me more intelligent.  Blows the mind. 

Secondly, I was never as smart as people assumed me to be.  I did ok in school.  Averaging out my grades in most years put me right in the middle of the pack.  I had excellent marks in English Lit, but I was outright flunking in Math.   I didn’t win any entrance scholarships to go to university.  I got a couple of nominal “book prizes”.   In 7 years of university I made the Dean’s list only once (and that was in my 1st year of my B.ED… hardly an academically challenging year).    In other words, my academic performances in high school and university were utterly, completely average.  So you can imagine the annoyance and frustration I caused to my poor, hard-done-by teachers and classmates when I had the audacity to perform poorly in math and science courses!  I was supposed to be a nerd or a genius.  I was supposed to do physics for fun.  I was supposed to be taking advanced chemistry and biology - I have, in reality, never taken a single course in high school or university in either subject – what a bitch I was for not performing to their expectations!  When I struggled with math (which my mother made me take even though it actually ruined what little chances I had at university scholarships) I was branded as lazy, obstinate and unwilling to try harder. 

Yep, that’s right.  I’m a lazy bitch. 

Today if I were in high school it would be drastically different.  I’d be tested for a learning disability.  All of the warning signs point the way to dyscalculia, a numerical equivalent to dyslexia.  But back in those days dyscalculia was unheard of, it was believed girls didn’t get learning disabilities anyway, and since I was doing well in other subjects (a present-day big red flag) it was assumed I was just not willing to cooperate.  These are all factors in how I was treated about my math “issues”.  And I know I certainly was not the only girl in my school and thousands of other schools too who received the same treatment from the professional educators of the day.  BUT I do believe the especially acidic reaction I got was because I looked like I should be excelling at math and science.  I have been out-right told, to my face, that people didn’t believe I was struggling with math and had dropped sciences all-together because I was a nerd with glasses and I was just lying so I wouldn’t have to help other students with their work.

So for those keeping score, I’m a Lazy Bitch AND a Liar. 

I was also expected to be physically illiterate.  As those of you who know me can probably guess, I excelled in dance lessons.  In fact, dance exams were where I did get high grades!  And blessedly, none of my dance teachers growing up ever wrote me off as a lost cause because of my glasses.  It was the ONLY place in my life in which I was not treated differently, and largely why I excelled there.  Outside of my dance school however I was laughed at and publically dismissed as either a liar or delusional by some people who couldn’t picture me as a dancer.  I was the typical weight and height, my hair fit in a bun… so why shouldn’t I be believable?  As I got older I’d call people on it.  The answer was always the same - “Because girls with glasses can’t be ballerinas”.  And you know what, that’s actually true.  I have never yet been able to find anywhere in the world-wide history of ballet a dancer who performed professionally while wearing glasses.  Not a one.  Ever.  That’s true for most pros of any dance style, actually.  With the exception of Gregory Hines in his later years, I can’t think of any dance pro performing with glasses on.  It just doesn’t happen. 

As a professional dancer myself, I almost always performed without my glasses.  Even before my LASIK surgery my vision wasn’t so poor that I needed them to dance.  I wasn’t like Velma from the Scooby-Doo cartoons who would become absolutely helpless when her glasses were knocked off.  I had to do it, I just didn’t look “right” in a belly dance costume with glasses on.  It made me look like I was just “playing” at being a belly dancer, not a real one.  I did experiment with performing with my glasses on a couple of times.  The difference was glaring! Without them I always got plenty of compliments on how I performed especially about my stage presence.  With them I got “no bad for a student dancer” or “not bad for an amateur performer”.  I wasn’t dancing or performing any differently.  But to the audience I was less able to entertain when I had glasses on.  I think ultimately the sight of a person performing physically skills and wearing glasses is too much of a juxtaposition of popular stereotypes for most people’s minds to process both consciously and unconsciously.  Would it be an ideal scenario to break the stereotypes and perform as a professional dancer wearing glasses?  Possibly.  But that doesn’t get me gigs or pay my bills.

Most interestingly, I have further proof of this glasses=nerd=clumsy stereotype is alive and well because it has completely – I mean 100%!! – disappeared since my  eye surgery.  I have been experiencing very significant differences in how I’m treated at work in the gym and, to a lesser extent, in fitness and dance classes.  I had known this would happen.  I should have bet money on this happening because I’d be rich by now!

Just like people can’t reconcile a dancer with glasses they also can’t deal with a personal trainer or aerobics teacher with glasses either.  Fortunately this happens to be an industry in which employers and colleagues are smarter than the general public, and these stereotypes have not affected my ability to get hired by a gym or rec centre.    

Sometimes the reaction I got from people was simply a weird vibe.  Other times it was much more obvious that I just didn’t make sense to them.  The most common thing that happened is someone new would come into the gym as say stuff like “isn’t there a trainer here?” or “I was told I could talk to a trainer, where is she?” This happened, on average, weekly.   One glance at me and they’d assume I was an administrator or something.  When I would say “Yep, I am the trainer” most people would literally shake their heads and realize they were being stupid and get over it.  Some other people were not so willing to give up on their beliefs.  I’d get reactions such as: “REALLY???”, “YOU are a trainer????”, “Ummmmmmmmmmm…”, “Aren’t there any other trainers here”. 

The proof is this.  Not once in the past 8 months has that happened.  NOT ONCE!!!!!!

The most ironic thing is I have actually gained a noticeable amount of body fat over the last 2 years and look less fit than I had before and I am STILL not experiencing any doubts from anyone about me being a fitness professional.  When I was 20 lbs thinner and had glasses no one believed me! 

THAT is fucked up.   

I’m fortunate that I work for the recreation department because I’m paid a flat rate for my time in the gym.  Had I been in a company in which my income was based on commission and paying clients I would likely have not made enough income to survive in this career. 

Not having glasses has also made working with clients easier.  This has been worth the price of the surgery in and of itself.  I loved my job before, but I enjoy it a whole lot more since!  I very rarely have clients question what I tell them or argue with me over anything anymore.  I have automatic authority in my job!  I realize now how exhausting it had been to get people to listen to me and let me train them.  My job has become ridiculously easier to do. 

There’s been one other interesting thing I’ve noticed, although comparatively minor to the work-related issues.  I am not being mistaken for someone much younger anymore.  When I wore glasses I was always being ID’d when buying alcohol.  I’ve even been ID’d several time just buying lottery tickets!  In many, many situations people often took me to be 10 to 15 years younger than I really am.   When people I’ve just met speak to me with a disrespectful tone I always ask them to guess my age.  The tone changes pretty fuckin’ quick when they find out the truth! 

I’m sure many of you don’t see the problem with looking young.  Media tells us this is something to envy.  I’ve been told all my life I should be thrilled that people take me to be way younger than I really am.  Well let me tell ya, it fucking sucks!  I get treated like a dumb, inexperienced, irresponsible child when I am none of those things.  Would you hire a dumb kid for a management job, or as a keynote speaker at a conference, or any other role requiring experience, skill and maturity?   It’s always been an extra struggle to prove I’m worth hiring because I don’t look old enough to handle it.  Combine that with the “glasses = nerd” stereotype, and it’s worse, because nerds are book smart, but they can’t function in a real job in the real world.  So no, I’m never pleased when this happens. 

I always chalked this up to being shorter than average, but I don’t think so anymore.  This one has me stumped, quite frankly, because people usually associate glasses with age, so if anything you’d think people would take me as even younger without them.   The glasses should have made me look older.  Whatever the reason, I am rarely being ID’d now.  I am still usually the youngest person in the classes I teach and younger than my clients, but they don’t point it out and dismiss me anymore.  No more tone-of-surprise when I prove my capabilities.  No more laughter and “isn’t that cute” when I do something mature and grown-up, as if I was merely just playing at being an adult before.  And I haven’t gotten the “Tsk, oh you’re just a BABY, you don’t understand XYZ” bullshit anymore either!!  People still guess my age as a bit younger than I really am, but the gap is down to 2 or 3 years, which is a massive difference from the 10 to 15 year discrepancy I used to get. I am automatically given more authority by people because I’m not “just a dumb kid” anymore.  It makes no sense!  Whatever the reason for this change I’m glad and deeply relieved for the result!

There has been one other change worthy of discussion, and this has been the biggest one for me emotionally.  Again, I should have bet money on this because I knew it would happen.  It’s both a relief to no longer deal with it and disturbing that this was ever the case in the first place. 

I am now pretty.

“Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses” is absolutely true.  Sure, I’ve had compliments on my appearance when I wore glasses.  I had dates and boyfriends.  I wasn’t living like a nun by any stretch of the imagination.  But it’s NOTHING like it is now.  Again, how ironic is this? I’m 35 and 20 lbs overweight, and I am getting more compliments and positive interactions (and fewer negative ones) than ever before. 

I have lost count in the last 8 months of how many people have complimented me on my eyes, especially the colour.  I wore clear colourless glasses all my life so how in the 7 Hell’s did so many people not realize that my eyes are blue?  You’d think it would be hard to miss!  It has been uncanny how many people, many of whom I’ve known for a decade or more, are just realizing for the first time that I have bright blue eyes.  Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time this has happened I’d be nearing a new tax bracket!

The real proof is how random men act towards me.  I’m not joking about how mind-blowingly fucked up this is.  I’m taking about the hundreds of minute interactions we experience in a week that we don’t notice or think about; buying groceries, pumping gas, looking for a parking spot, pouring milk into a coffee at Starbucks. 

It’s ALL different now.  It’s like I’ve gone through The Looking Glass and come out into some strange universe where the opposite behaviors happen. 

In the past I was usually ignored and treated as if I were invisible by most men.  If I caught a particularly nasty one I was treated as if I had no business going about my business.  Now random men I meet only in passing are looking at me, not through or around me.  They offer to pass me things.  They hold doors open for me.  They are WAY more polite.  They try to engage me in conversation.  They flirt.  They outright compliment me on my looks.

A few weeks ago I was going across the MacDonald Bridge and I stopped at the booth for loonies and the booth attendant said “Wow, you sure are a beautiful woman”.  WHAT THE FUCK????????????

I can’t be clear enough about this.  Things like this have NEVER happened before.  No random stranger had ever complimented me.  NOT EVER. 

Until now compliments about my physical appearance have been very rare, even from close friends and family.  And because they were so rare, I’ve always treated them with a healthy dose of suspicion.  I was never once called pretty as a child.  As a teenager and adult I was sometimes complimented, but only by people who’d gotten to know me, and came to find me beautiful only over the course of time.  More often than not, it was (again!) the tone-of-surprise “Wow, you really ARE pretty” kind of compliment, and often I’d get that only if I had taken my glasses off for some reason.

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore!!!

As much as I had plenty of serious medical reasons for having this eye surgery the effect on my life has been much more akin to having plastic surgery to correct a facial disfigurement.  For me looking out I see better and I have the major convenience of not wearing glasses any more.  But the way other people interact with me has been vastly over-hauled.  I no longer look like a stereotype.  I also no longer look disabled, which I’m sure is 50% of the reason why I was treated so negatively as a child and young adult (the other 50% is, I think, due to TV shows and movies, but that’s a whole other blog).  Wearing glasses due to aging is a normal part of life.  Wearing glasses from toddler-hood is NOT normal.  It is a sign of being deeply diseased.  It’s a big waving red flag that my genes are garbage and should not be perpetuated.  Good old Darwinism. 

But we live in an age where we should know better, don’t we?  Yeah well that would be lovely, but it’s not happening.   I think so much of this stuff happens at a deeply sub-conscious level and unless you’re either receiving the discrimination or close to someone who is, you’ll never be aware of it.  I think too that as we do more work in teaching people about the media, stereotypes and discrimination we are getting away from this.  I have always found people of the Millennial generation to be way less caught up in these old ideas. Millennial men have consistently treated me better than a lot of my fellow Gen-Xers.  I’ve found most male Boomers to be outright snobs and even hostile on occasion.  So the good news is that these attitudes and behaviors are changing with the ages. 

If that’s not a brilliant justification for becoming a cougar, I don’t know what is!!

It all boils down to one thing in the end… people’s expectations of me have changed due to the change in my appearance.  This is something I’m extremely happy about because I feel like I’m finally getting a fair chance in life.  My life has become so much easier because I’m not fighting all the time with people who impose their assumptions about how I should think or behave.  It pisses me off though, because for the last 35 years, I’ve had to waste too much time on that sort of bullshit.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Post-surgery blog: The pre-surgry preamble

So now that I’ve finally gotten around to posting a picture of me without glasses, it’s time to catch up on the blog about the whole experience. This is actually a multi-parter, so here’s the first part. In starting to write about my experience of having LASIK eye surgery and the social experiment my post-surgery life has turned into, I found myself explaining in snippets how I got to the point of needing the surgery in the first place. It made for some dis-jointed writing, so I figured I should put all of the background info here in one place.

Furthermore, my experiences throughout my life as a “girl who wears glasses” along with my decision to have a very risky surgery to end that problem is one that is often met with a sniff and an air of accusation of vanity. So this blog piece will be THE last time I will explain what I have gone through to remain sighted AND deal with a lifetime of other people’s baggage. From here on in, anyone asking questions or questioning my decisions will be sent here to read this. I’ve spent over 30 years explaining myself to people, and the buck stops at the end of this post.

 Most people assume that like “everyone” else, I got glasses as I grew up, probably late elementary school or early junior high. That’s when most people start wearing glasses, if they wear them before reaching middle age. That is not what happened in my case. I wore glasses since I was somewhere around 2.5 years old. I do not remember a time in my life in which I did not have to wear glasses. Therefore when I say having LASIK eye surgery and not wearing glasses is a life-long dream, I mean that absolutely literally.

I was born with an eye disease called Strabismus. There are variations on the visible effects of this disease, in my case my right eye turns inward. I also had an un-named condition which caused me to only be able to focus my vision by casting my gaze downward. As a result I had to tip my head way back, as far as it could go, and look downward to be able to see anything. On top of that, I was far-sighted as well.

The treatment for this involved wearing glasses at all times and spending several hours a day wearing a patch over my left eye to force my right eye to work harder and strengthen the weak muscle that cause the turn. I also at one point had to wear a prism on the lens of my right eye. Eventually I was made to wear bifocals sometime around when I turned 5. Finally I had surgery a month before turning 6 years old. In case you’re not following the ages, here it is spelled out: From 2.5 to 6 years old I did several hours a day of physiotherapy on my eye. No breaks, no days off. I had to see the ophthalmologist a few times a year which involved my parents having to lose time at work to take me from Glace Bay to Halifax. I also had to see an orthoptist monthly who, blessedly, started doing monthly visits to the old hospital in Sydney because there were no orthoptists in Cape Breton at the time.

Only after all of that did I have surgery. And let me be clear, that was NOT a laser surgery. It was full anesthesia and a scalpel in my eye. It was a complicated one as well. The ophthalmologist could only correct one of the two problems (eye turn or vertical gaze) 100%. He chose to correct the vertical gaze issue 100% because it could not be corrected with glasses as the eye turn could, and also because cosmetically it was a very socially damaging affliction to have. In other words, had he not corrected that 100% I would to this day be walking around with my head titled back and my eyes focused downward in order to see. I wouldn’t be able to do the vast majority of jobs, I certainly couldn’t drive a car, etc. I would have been left functionally disabled and socially I would have perpetually faced the presumption that I was mentally retarded due to my skewed appearance.

 Since the eye turn couldn’t be corrected 100% I do still, to this day, have a somewhat visible turn. It’s not always there, but if I’m tired, I’ve been reading for a while or occasionally if I’ve had too much alcohol it is blatant. It is also sometimes visible when I am finishing teaching a fitness class because if I’ve closed my eyes during the final stretch/meditation my right eye needs a minute or so to re-focus after I’ve opened them again. Yes, I get some weird glances in class when this happens, and I have had to explain myself in public more than once because of this.

After the eye surgery I still had strabismus and far-sightedness. Therefore I continued to have to wear bifocal glasses. I had bifocals with the line across the centre of the lens and then later the ones with the “1/2 moon” part in the inner corner of each lens. I didn’t get my first pair of multi-focals (aka “invisible bifocals”) until I was 16 years old. More on that later.

Sometime in the year I was 9 years old, the ophthalmologist noticed on a routine appointment that my eye, as he said, “looked different”. It turns out I had a very elevated level of pressure in my optic nerves of both eyes. Again, for those not initiated by age, this means I was showing signs of glaucoma. I was whisked into an exhausting battery of tests:
 - pressure tests - that’s the yellow drops and the blue light, normally never done on anyone under the age of 40 or 45;
- photos of my optic nerve – not like today with digital camera, this was the 80’s, so it meant leaning into a special camera lens while a full-strength camera flash went off in my eye. Since I could not control keeping my eye open (I’m extremely light-sensitive to start with) a nurse had to hold my eye open by force to have the photos done. It was by far the most excruciating, experience I have ever had, made only worse by the constant chastising of the so-called adults around me who were QUITE put out by my inability to “cooperate”. They’d be fired for speaking to a patient like that today, but back then it was ALL my fault and I just wasn’t being cooperative. Fuckwads.
- Field vision tests: to add to the annoyance and indignity of the above, my initial field vision tests basically showed I was completely blind. The problem was, the technician taking me through the test failed to properly explain to me what I was supposed to do in the test. Therefore I did it completely incorrectly and the machine “said” I had no vision at all. Obviously that wasn’t correct, so I had to do the test dozens of times again over many months on various similar machines to prove I was in fact not completely blind. I repeat… Fuckwads.

 I refused to ever have the optic nerve photos done again. I relented to a field vision test annually after that, only because my optic nerve pressure has remained elevated throughout my life, even though they show no narrowing of my field of vision whatsoever. I did end up having a photo done as part of my assessment for the LASIK surgery last fall, but only because there’s new technology and it’s neither as painful nor invasive as the old cameras. I haven’t been to my regular (i.e. non-laser) ophthalmologist since the LASIK surgery, so I assume the field vision tests will resume as usual when I see him next.

And for the record, I don’t and never did actually have glaucoma. I just naturally and normally (normal for me, anyway) have elevated pressure in my optic nerve. Lots of people do. So all of that whole episode ultimately was for nothing.

Anyway… at the age of 16 I got my first pair of “invisible bifocals” or multi-focals. Anyone who has worn them will know, multi-focals are not easy to get used to wearing. I had to be extremely careful because I was also learning to drive at the same time, so I often had to switch between my old bifocals and the new glasses for the first few months, just for safety. Going down the turn-around staircases at my high school was no treat either, and I very nearly passed out the first time did that with the multi-focals on.

Thankfully it only took me a few months to become accustomed to them, and I was pretty much fine with them, even though every new pair still took a few days of adjustment to be ok. Anything was better than the obvious bi-focals because as you can imagine, a child wearing bi-focals is extremely rare. While I occasionally got reactions from other kids, they were mostly polite inquisitiveness with only the occasional “freak” reaction thrown in. Adults on the other hand were a bit more of a problem. As I got older they got slightly better behaved, but the freaking-out panicky responses to seeing me, a mere “baby”, in bifocals will never leave me. People would tell me to my face that they “couldn’t believe” a child was wearing bifocals. So there I was somewhere between a lie and a mutated freak.

 Have I said the word “Fuckwads” lately?

The multi-focals were a god-send because they took that pressure off. People no longer shot out at me with anxiety and anger (yes, anger was often directed at me) because they couldn’t comprehend why  my vision was so bad that I had to wear bifocals and had physio & surgery as a child. No normal child had all these things wrong with them. I was simply too scary to comprehend.

Lots of teenagers wear glasses, and I was no longer distinguishable from any of them. I was able to pass as somewhat normal!! Sure there were still lots of assumptions I had to deal with from people but they were the same as any other person with glasses had to deal with. It was the first social relief I’d had in my entire life to that point.

This is usually the point in the story in which people demand to know why I didn’t just wear contact lenses. Trust me, I desperately wanted to wear contacts. Somewhere in the mess of all of the above I also developed an astigmatism. In the 90’s the opticians weren’t yet making contacts to fit astigmatisms. Even when the technology to do that was eventually developed in the early 2000’s, they still couldn’t make a multifocal lens and an astigmatism lens in the same lens. The technology for this STILL doesn’t exist.

So that brings me up to about 3 years ago. I actually went for an evaluation at a laser eye clinic. I was turned down because my astigmatism was too severe – at the time they couldn’t operate on an astigmatism above 3 diopters, which mine was – and because of the strabismus causing my right eye to wander too much. I can’t control the degree of the turn or when it’ll happen, which meant I was immediately rejected for the surgery to fix my far-sightedness.

Almost a year ago, after chatting with my regular ophthalmologist as well as a few friends who had more recently had the surgery, I went in for another assessment. The technology in this business changes rapidly. They now do astigmatisms well over 6 diopters, they have better tools for controlling the wandering of the eyes, and they have a new “wavefront” laser that covers people like me with unusually large pupils. I didn’t even know I had unusually large pupils until they assessed me!! Just one of the things wrong with my eyes - which btw totally explains my extreme light sensitivity!! – that I was never told about until this experience because they were not important compared to everything I’ve described above. It turns out I also have some soft spots on my right cornea – probably was born with them – that since the surgery are causing me some problems. Manageable with medication, quite frankly I’ll take the soft spots on my cornea over not having had the surgery any day!! But other than that, I’ve had no problems since the surgery was done on December 29th, 2011.

So there it is. The whole thing. I have written this here with the intention of never having to explain any of this again. If you have any questions, don’t ask me. I won’t be answering them. If there’s any medical terms you don’t know, that’s what Google is for so go look it up yourself.

I am living a new life as a person who no longer has people questioning my vision issues and no longer treats me by stereotypes because I have no choice but to wear glasses. That is what I referred to at the beginning of this peice as the post-surgical social experiment. THAT is a whole other blog for next week though.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Fuller Terrace Lecture Series needs some funding help

Last summer I had the pleasure of speaking at the Fuller Terrace Lecture Series.  It's where I first did the original version of my "The Right to Being Healthy and Pretty, or Is it Wrong to Run Like a Girl?” talk BEFORE it was a TEDx talk!  

It was an amazing expereince that I can't recommend enough!!

This year they need some help with raising funds to cover the expenses of this series.  Please send a donation if you can to their fundrtaising site at this link:

Here's a clip from one of last year's nights:

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Kim's Socks

In recent years I have taken to making a Knitting New Year's resolution.  Its been a way for me to push myself to add to my skills and ensure I don't get stuck in a rut with project choices.  This year I decided my resolution would be to start designing my own patterns.  By the end of March I still hadn't gotten any original projects started let alone completed, photographed, written-up and posted anywhere!  I decided at that point I needed a framework.
Around the same time, I passed the 1-year anniversary of playing with my band-mates.  We've had a whole year of playing to the point where things had really clicked, of celebrating birthdays and holidays together, and in the process of all of that, forming a really great group friendship.   Kim is our piano player, and her birthday last year was the first social event I went to with these gals, having played with them for the first time only a few weeks earlier.  Being invited to her party felt like the official moment of no longer just "playing a few times to see how it goes" and actually being part of the band. 
So it dawned on me, as Kim's birthday approached again this year, that this was a great opportunity to tackle my Knitting New Year's resolution, and make birthday gifts for my band mates that show how much they mean to me.  Plus this takes advantage of my love of sock knitting AND the rather ample stash of sock yarn I got from friends and family as holiday gifts... my addiction for sock knitting has become legendary, and you are all enablers!!!  ;)
So what you see in pictures here is the final result - "Kim's Socks".  There's a double cable up each side and the pattern between the cables is actually a lattice pattern formed by alternating purls and knits.  The lattice and a 1x1 cable on each side continues down the length of the foot as well.  I always prefer a plain toe - it fits better when wearing them in shoes.   I have the pattern more or less written, but I have to tidy it up quite a bit before posting it.  It still has things like "use my standard heel pattern" which of course makes sense to no one but me.  I'm going to have to polish up my Ravelry account too, so I can post it there.
These pics show them from various angles.  The last pic is of Kim (in blue) with our lead singer Katherine, snapped just before the little performance we played on Victoria Day Monday. 

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Free Bellyfit Class in HRM In one week!

Hi Everyone,
Lara and I had a great time at the Bellyfit table at the wellness fair in Sackville on the weekend.  We still have some Bellyfit: Earth home workout DVDs for sale.  Lara also still has a handful of copies of her Beginner Bellydance Student Manual for sale.  Please contact me here or via e-mail or Facebook if you'd like to buy some.

I've teamed up with Kathryn from Pure Freedom Yoga Studio to offer a free Bellyfit class to any woman in the area who'd like to attend.  It will be on Tuesday April 10th at 1:30pm at Pure Freedom, 30 Farnham Gate Road.
Please bring indoor-only sneakers, a water bottle and yoga mat if you have one.  Kathryn has mats to rent too if you don't own one.

Pure Freedom Yoga Studio  On Facebook:
 ...  On the web:

Bellyfit instructors in Nova Scotia are also on Facebook:

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Spring 2012 schedule of classes

This is my Spring 2012 schedule of classes:
(updated as of March 26th, 2012)

These are the classes I'm doing this spring that are open to the general public.  Please note, however, that Bellyfit and Belly Dance are women-only.  Bellyfit classes will have drop-in spaces only if they are not completely full with people registered for the whole term.  There are no drop-ins for Belly Dance classes.

***All of these classes, except the 2 at Mount St. Vincent University, require prior registration with the facility hosting the class.  Please contact them directly for pricing and registration***

Move & Pump It (cardio and weight training intervals, anything goes!) - 6:00-7:00pm - Mount St. Vincent University Ath/Rec Department; On-going, start any tyime

Pump It (weight training) - 9:30-10:30am - Mount St. Vincent University Ath/Rec Department; On-going, start any time
Beginner Belly Dance - 1:30-2:30pm - Pure Freedom Yoga Studio; Starts April 3rd
Bellyfit - 7:15-8:15pm - Capt. Spry Community Centre; Starts April 10th

Belly Dance for Returning Students - 6:30-7:30pm - Sackville Recreation Cenre (Library Bildg); Starts April 4th
Belly Dance for Beginners - 7:30-8:30pm - Sackville Recreation Cenre (Library Bildg); Starts April 4th

Bellyfit - 7:15-8:15pm - Gordon R. Snow Community Centre (Fall River); Starts April 5th ***NOT April 12th as previously listed***

Monday, 12 March 2012

Please "like" us on Facebook

Hi Everyone,
Those of us who are certified Bellyfit instructors have created a fan page for Bellyfit for our province. We'd really appreciate your "likes", "shares" and "invitations" to friends and family. 

Thanks :)

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Please watch Drake Jensen's music video!!

Please take a moment to click on this You Tube video!  Drake is an old friend of mine from the town we grew up in.  His music career has recently really taken off, but he still needs some support.  CMT (Country Music Television) is willing to consider playing his video on TV, but only if they get a sense that it will be popular.  They're looking at the number of You Tube hits this video receives as part of their decision.  It's just over 19,000 so far, but the more the better!!

It's really important to get his video played on CMT as it is the first Canadian country music video to feature a gay couple!!  Country is genre of music that's not particularly known for being QLGBT allies.  If CMT were to play this on the air it would be a groundbreaking change!

And, if you're a country music fan and would like to follow Drake on facebook...

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Learn to workout... and speak English?

Once of the greatest pleasures of my job is that I often get to work with ESL – English as a Second Language - learners in the gym and in fitness classes.  A few years ago I took the training program for teaching ESL at St. Mary’s University.  It was a great program that I recommend to everyone.  Between that and my other life experiences I’ve learned a lot of things that are helpful, so here’s my top tips:
  1. With all ESL learners you have to be careful with colloquialisms.  As native English speakers we often don’t even realize we’re using them.  It’s especially helpful in fitness to watch our use of verbs.  I once saw a trainer instructing an ESL learner on how to use a treadmill which he started by saying “just hop on up here and press this button”.  You can imagine how confused the client was as he was trying to figure out why one would “hop” on a treadmill.  He was picturing someone hopping like a bunny while the treadmill was moving.  “Step up” would have been a much better phrase to use. 
  2.  Most ESL teachers “talk with our hands”.  That is to say we basically play charades as we are speaking to ESL learners.  Don’t be afraid to add this to your conversations in the gym.  If you have a sign-in sheet for classes, tell your new ESL learner client that they need to sign in but also mime picking up a pen and signing the sheet.
  3.  Use visual directional cues.  If you want your client to use their right leg to step forward in a lunge, actually point to the right and point forward as you speak.  Just be careful about rights and lefts because they’re the opposite if you’re facing a person directly!   Group Fitness Leaders are very skilled at this since we do it aerobics classes all the time, so check with a GFL if you need advice on how to do mirror-image teaching. 
  4. Drawings are always helpful too.  Don’t worry, you don’t have to be Leonardo Da Vinci with the drawings.  A basic stick-figure or approximate shape of muscle is perfect for getting the point across.  A note pad and a pencil during a one-on-one session can be your most useful tools of all. 
  5. Another use for note paper is to write out the words you are using.  Quite often ESL learners are better at reading English than they are speaking or hearing it.  Writing out the word so the client can see how it is spelled often works well. If you use sticky notes they can keep their new words after the session for review too.
Most importantly are the following 3 points.  These are more about your world view and attitude than actual hands-on tips.  If you take nothing else away from this article, please make sure you understand these: 
  1. I do hope I’m being overly careful by saying this, but just in case… Don’t assume your ESL Learner client is “stupid” because they don’t speak much English yet.  And also, please don’t assume he or she doesn’t already know this stuff in their native language.  It is highly likely that they already know a great deal of information, they just can’t translate it yet.   I once had an ESL client who is a doctor.  He didn’t know more than maybe a dozen words of English when he first moved here, so you can imagine how frustrating it was for him not knowing the English words for the major muscles!  Through drawings and “playing charades” we managed to get him the information he wanted and he learned some new English words along the way.  So many newcomers to Canada are very highly educated, and they are often relieved and very pleased to be recognized as such.  
  2. Your ESL Learner client really wants to learn more English!  Sometimes they are really keen learners to the point where asking you to spell or explain new words can overshadow the workout itself.  Don’t worry about that.  It’ll make for a better workout for that client in a few days or weeks and it will keep them coming back to you as well    
  3. Be patient if you have trouble understanding someones’s speech with a heavy accent, AND, make an effort to become familiar with how different accents sound.  When you’re raised in a homogenous community you generally learn to hear only your own accent.  Folks from large cities rarely have this problem.  If you find you can’t understand a word your client is saying, ask for their patience until you get used to hearing how they speak.  Accents from different languages are a lot like learning music.  After a bit of practice you will be able to recognize different notes and rhythms in music.  So too with accents.  It takes practice until you become accustomed to how certain letter, syllables and works come through.  And that doesn’t have to just be for people who are new to English, either.  There’s dozens of various English-language accents and dialects throughout the world, and a native English speaker of one might not be able to understand another.  Cockney Rhyming Slang, anyone?  Check out films with actors using accents, or check out some of the fabulous international speakers on to practice getting your ear attuned to new sounds.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Class choreo mention - Alex Skolnick Trio's "Bollywood Jam"

I'm using this song in my "returning students" dance class :) When I first heard just the song I planned to only use it for zill drills but it's become the choreo piece.  Once I saw the video, I had to have at it and do some more serious zillin'. Can ya blame me?    To be clear and fair, these ladies did a great job with the short amount of face time they had - this is after all a video to promote the music, not a showcase for the dancers.  Totally appropriate that they didn't take over the whole show in this case.  That's what good music video dancing is all about!

And speaking of the music...  I'd love to say I've paid close attention to the nothing but the dancing in this but... erm...  oh heck, with a cutie guitarist like this, I'm not watching too much of the dancing 100%, lol!!  :)

SNAP Halifax - Bellyfit Class

SNAP Halifax - Bellyfit Class

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Belly dance & Bellyfit - which one is which??

So there seems to still be a LOT of confusion out there about the Belly Dance and Bellyfit classes I offer. So here's the list:

Belly Dance:
- a dance class, not a fitness class
- focus is on learning dance moves and choreography
- students are expected to practice memorizing choreography
- moves are broken down piece-by-piece and practiced over and over again
- there is a lot of discussing the minutia of how moves are done, lots of stopping and starting as we learn
- classes are done in bare feet or soft dance slippers.  Coin belts with lots of beads and jingly coins are welcome in class
- classes are arranged according to the experience level of the students, i.e. beginner, intermediate & advanced.

- this is a standardized workout program created and licensed by Bellyfit International
- this is a workout class, not a dance class
- this is a follow-the-leader format; we don't break down the moves piece-by-piece
- there is no choreography to memorize
- we wear workout clothes and sneakers for this class; no bare feet until we get down on the floor, no jingles because a coin or bead flying off could be dangerous under foot; also, you will need a yoga mat for this class because we do a Pilates-based core routine and a yoga-based stretch at the end
- there are no beginner, intermediate or advanced levels - everyone works out together!!  Bellyfit instructors as specially trained to offer various levels of intensity and impact during the workout so everyone's abilities and tastes can be suited.

So you can see it, here's a clip of a Bellyfit class.

I hope this clears up the difference!