Author: Heather

I love travel, ballet, cats and my hometown of NYC.

Conducting an Orchestra in Herald Square

Here’s one more for the weekend—it’s definitely a feel-good Friday video!

Improv Everywhere, an NYC group known for staging attention-getting stunts, recently set up Carnegie Hall’s Ensemble ACJW orchestra in the middle of Herald Square and invited people to conduct them. Locals and tourists stepped up with their best conductor imitations—which are both hilarious and heart-warming to watch.

Kudos to the awesome young musicians who sounded great while following the haphazard conducting!

Also, if you’ve ever wondered what, exactly, a conductor does, check out Justin Davidson’s fantastic (and aptly named) NYMag piece, “What Does a Conductor Do?”В Davidson breaks down the nuances of conducting in an incredibly engaging and entertaining way; it’s actually one of my favorite long reads from the past few years.

On that note (ha!) have a fabulous weekend.

You’re Gonna Hear Me…

the serengeti lion

Sorry, couldn’t resist! And it doesn’t help that I’ve been listening to that song nonstop, for weeks.

But in all seriousness, definitely check out National Geographic‘s “The Serengeti Lion.” During several trips to the Serengeti between July 2011 and January 2013, photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols and videographer Nathan Williamson used cameras mounted on remote control cars to get super up close to lions. The result: amazing access to the big cats. (And their cubs!)

The footage is truly amazing, as is the portal they built to display it. You really feel like you can reach out and pet the majestic felines!

Enjoy—and happy Friday!

(Image via WNYC)

Enough with the “Travel Shoulds”!

WithВ my brief foray into tango, I almost broke one ofВ my travel philosophies. And that’s not to fall prey to “travel shoulds.”

As in, the things you think you should see/do/experience in a particular place.

For years, I felt like I needed to hit every museum in each city I visited. I thought it was necessary to learn about that area’s history, culture and arts. Never mind that I’m not a huge museum-goer in my day-to-day life; I almost never visit the world-class institutions here in NYC.

On other occasions, I made myself eat what I felt I “should” be eating: Chinese food for every single meal in Hong Kong, even though I was really craving a break from the cuisine. A loco moco (white rice topped with a hamburger patty, gravy and a fried egg) in Hawaii, when I actually just wanted a fresh fish sandwich.

I thought that I had to go-go-go on every trip. I hopscotched across cities, beaches and mountains (and climbed every volcano, hit every attraction and tried every restaurant in my path) in an effort to see as many parts of a country as I could in a week or two.

But over the years, I’ve realized that vacations should be exactly that—time off from all the pressure, stress and guilt of everyday life. And there’s no need to make yourself do something you don’t want!

I’ve learned that you can learn tons of culture and history outside of museums. Talking to locals at your hotel or on the bus yields fantastic stories and information about a place. Eating a non-indigenous dish can show you how a culture interprets a cuisine that’s not its own. An awesome family trip to Negril, Jamaica reminded me how re-energizing it can be to stay in one place for an entire trip.

There’s no good reason to force yourself to do something you don’t want to, because you feel you “should”! If you hate staying out late, you shouldn’t feel obligated to experience another country’s nightlife. If you’re frazzled from your flight, or from several days on the road, don’t feel guilty about lounging by a pool for a few hours.

That sounds obvious. But it’s so easy to get caught up in vacation excitement and the feeling that you have to pack tons of activities into your precious few days away from work. (I’m always on the go at home, so it takes conscious effort to slow down, once I’m out of NYC!)

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t get out of your comfort zone—you should definitely seize those opportunities that fill you with nervous excitement. That’s when you’ll often experience the most rewarding moments. I’m talking about those times when your heart isn’t into an activity. Or when you’re exhausted and need a break. Or when you’re convincing yourself to do something over another option you’d truly prefer.

One of the best parts of travel is experiencing a place the way you want to. So go ahead and skip the trendy new restaurant and return to that cute hole-in-the-wall you ate at the night before—and order the same exact dish. Or sit outside people-watching (and eating gelato), instead of strolling through that famous museum. Or go to bed early and wake up refreshed, instead of dragging yourself to that street with all the music bars.

And enjoy.

volcan santa maria

(Climb that volcano only if you want to—not just because it’s there. Volcan Santa Maria, Guatemala—which I did climb, last September!)

My Brief Foray into Tango

tango

After I booked my fall trip to Buenos Aires, I decided to learn tango.

The style originated in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, UruguayВ in the late 1800s. As a dancer, I felt there would be no better way to get to know a culture than through its moves. I planned to take several tango classes in NYC, В so I’d have enough basic knowledge to go dancing in BA. Plus, I thought it might be fun to do a social dance, for a change.

I took a free introductory class at TriANGulO, an all-Argentine tango studio, then signed up for a four-week tango course at Paul Pellicoro’s DanceSport, using a Groupon deal. (TriANGulO didn’t have any beginner classes that worked with my schedule.)

Though I liked the instructors at both places, I wasn’t having as much fun as I expected. I chalked it up to a few factors:

  • Tango is an intimate dance!В More so than I expected. Much of dance is an unspoken conversation between you and your partner. Leaders (men) “tell” followers (women) which steps to take by shifting their weight and moving their bodies. Followers are able to understand this, because they’re dancing with their hands on their leaders’ chests, or are in an open or closed embrace. Since I wasn’t coming to the lessons with a partner, I initially felt a little awkward dancing closely with people I’d just met.
  • Going along with that—it takes two to tango.В I really enjoyed dancing with the instructors who guided me into talking all the right steps. But in beginner tango group classes, there’s a lot of blind leading the blind—as in, dancing with partners who are just learning how to lead. Which translates into bumbling around awkwardly with strangers!
  • I signed up for tango classes at the worst possible time.В 8:30 p.m. on Fridays. It was the only session that fit my schedule.В But it was directly following my favorite ballet class. And after that class, I’m exhausted from the week, starving and ready for a quiet night in. Going to tango afterwards was tough!

I thought I’d enjoy myself more if I had a good dance partner. Or if the class were at a different time. Or if I progressed to the point where I knew a lot more steps. But finally, on the subway ride home from a tango class, I realized what the real problem was: I just wasn’t loving tango, itself.

Dance is an art, and, like any art form, there are styles that speak to you more than others. For me, ballet feels natural. The movements feel right and I love every minute of it. (Even when I’m sore or tired or my feet are hurting.) I’ve danced other styles over the years—modern, jazz, hip hop, tap, African—but I never felt the same affinity towards them. Not enough to pursue them, or even take classes for fun.

And that’s how I feel about tango. It’s a gorgeous (and sexy!) dance, and there are thousands of people who love it the way I do ballet. And I know they’re thrilled every minute they can dance it. But it’s not a natural fit for me.

Knowing that, I’ve put tango on hold until I go to Buenos Aires. Maybe being there will inspire me to take a class, or attempt dancing at a milonga. Or maybe I’ll just watch a tango show. I’ll see in a few weeks!

(Photo via Pinterest—though I would love to know the original source!)

End-of-Year Trip Booked: London

london

For weeks—months, actually—I’d been debating whether I could squeeze in a London trip before the end of the year. It’s an expensive flight for a relatively short distance. And I’d only have a few days there.

Finally, I decided to go for it. I caved and booked a flight to London, a week and a half before Christmas. The pros were just too strong:

  • I’ll get to see my best friend, Reen—whom I haven’t seen in nearly a year, since she moved to London! That, alone, is reason enough.В 
  • I’ll get to experience the city as a local.В On my previous trip to London, I hit up all the must-dos: Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the Globe Theatre, the Tate, the V&A, the Portrait Gallery, Harrod’s—and dozens more. Now that I’ve already seen those places, I’m interested in having Reen take me to her favorite haunts: cute restaurants, local pubs, favorite markets and the like.
  • Even though I hate winter, I love the idea of London at Christmas time.В I’m picturing the streets adorned with pretty lights and decorations. And we’re planning to see the Royal Ballet perform the Nutcracker. Of course. 😉
  • I wanted to pre-empt my post-vacation blues.В As I’ve learned, I tend to get pretty bummed after a great trip—and the best cure is to book another one! I knew I’d be blue coming back from spring in Buenos Aires to winter in NYC. I figured that booking another getaway would be an investment in my sanity.
  • YOLO.В Seriously. And embarrassingly, I actually did think this as I typed in my credit card information for my ridiculously pricey flight to London. I’m halfway through my first year in my 30s, and I’ve felt like I’ve reached that tipping point where everyone around me seems to be settling down and getting married and having kids. And while I still plan to do all those things, myself, I’m not anywhere close, at the moment. And I figure I should take advantage of this time to live it up.

…even though “living it up” also means that I’m being super-careful with money so I can pay off my two trips. (Hello, homemade huevos rancheros for dinner, every night! Not happening: shopping for cute fall sweaters.) But I’m already thrilled with my decision. Instead of being down about the end of summer, I feel nothing but excitement for the fall and winter.

(Photo via Pinterest)

Ballet Monsters

I have to thank New York City Ballet’s Facebook page for introducing me to “Ballet Monsters,” an incredible illustrations series by Taipei artist Keith Lin.

His line drawings are simple, yet they capture ballet so well. Lin’s lithe figures not only have perfect technique; they also convey grace, passion and elegance—despite being virtually faceless.

As Lin told Pointe magazine:

I rely on ballet positions to express feeling. Dancers speak with their bodies onstage, and to me the closed eyes show how they are enjoying the moment. Sometimes I feel like I’m choreographing on paper.

I love how Lin’s figures also cheekily—and accurately!—illustrate the mindset of us ballet addicts. Lin’s closest friends are dancers and he draws his inspiration from them.

A few drawings that I particularly loved (and related to):

ballet monsters 4

ballet monsters 2

ballet monsters 3

В 

ballet monsters 1

Check them all out on the two “Ballet Monsters” pages here and here!

(“Ballet Monsters” illustrations by Keith Lin, found via New York City Ballet)

“After the Rain” in NYC

Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” is a piece I really want to see live.

I’ve watched several excerpts of the pas de deux via YouTube, and love the stripped-down quality of the movements and the tender interplay between the dancers. Simplicity is what makes the piece so stunning. It’s the kind of choreography I want to dance, myself.

This morning, at sunrise,В Maria Kowroski andВ Ask la Cour from New York City Ballet performed “After the Rain” on the 57th floor of 4 World Trade Center. This performance, billed as “New Beginnings” was in remembrance of 9/11, and a “testament to the resilience of the human spirit, and a tribute to the future of the city that New York City Ballet calls home.”

It’s just gorgeous, especially against the backdrop of the city waking up.

Watch it (a couple of times!) below:

(Video via New York City Ballet)В