Minnesota music: Hot cheetos and kidneys

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Earlier this week, Minnesota had the rare distinction of having some of the best weather in the country. Those who are not from Minnesota seem to have only one concept of the state: that it is in a perpetual state of winter. And this, I’ll admit, makes me a little sad for my state. Because, in truth, we have gorgeous seasons, and in summertime it gets hot. Like seriously hot.

The hottest anthem of this past summer, already feeling like a distance memory, is yet another source of Minnesota pride. (Nice transition, right?) If you haven’t heard Hot Cheetos and Takis yet, you’re welcome:

These North Minneapolis kids created this song and video as part of a YMCA camp. And their whole album is amazing. It just makes your heart smile, no?

You might be surprised to learn that kids in the Twin Cities have plenty of local hip-hop idols to turn to, from Brother Ali to master beat-boxer Carnage to my favorites, Doomtree, a seven-piece group (I’ve written about Dessa before, the sole–amazing–female in the group):

The guy who raps first in that video, POS, released a new album just last week. Sadly, the release was somewhat overshadowed by POS’s announcement that he would be canceling the release tour on account of needing a kidney transplant ASAP. Immediately, support came rolling in. His friends set up a donation site, pointing out that he’ll have lifelong prescription costs and “rappers don’t have robust benefit packages.” They asked for $25,000 to pay for the transplant and follow-up costs, and gave themselves 120 days to raise it.

It took about 5 days. As of today, just a week after the site launched, 767 people have donated for a total of $33,116. Several have told POS seriously that if they’re a match, they will donate a kidney of their own as well. And if that doesn’t make your heart smile, I don’t know what would.

Happily ever after

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The closing ceremonies of the Olympics are almost unbearably sad to me. Unlike the opening ceremonies when everyone dreams of winning a medal–realistically or not–the closing ceremonies are defined by the victories and defeats of the past 2 weeks. But whether or not they got the gold–and the majority of them didn’t–these athletes will be retelling their stories for the rest of their lives.

As I said to friends on Friday night, I feel so bad for most of these athletes who will spend the next 60 years wishing they’d gotten the gold medal. One friend responded, yeah, and we get to spend 80 years wishing we’d gotten a gold. Touché. Psychologically, however, it’s hardest on silver medalists. While bronze medalists are generally happy just to be on the podium, and non-medalists are generally happy to even be a part of the Olympics, silver medalists are those who missed out by a thousandth of a point or a thousandth of a second. Just ask Lashinda Demus, American hurdler who vowed to never quit until she bumped up her silver status to gold, or McKayla Maroney, whose sour expression on the second-tier silver podium spawned the meme McKayla is not impressed.

Not impressed.

And for those who did get the gold? What happens after the end of the fairy tale? What will Michael Phelps and Misty May Treanor do, for goodness sake, without swimming or beach volleyball?

The second half of the musical Into the Woods wonders what happens after “happily ever after,” and the answer is not a rosy picture. The show ends with the Children Will Listen, a song which cautions that wishes do come true, but “sometimes the spell may last / past what you may see / and turn against you.”

Hopefully that won’t be the case for the Olympians now returning to their home countries. Because, even if McKayla isn’t, we are certainly impressed with our fairy tale heroes and heroines, and hope that “happily ever after” really can come true.

How to live in a fairy tale

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What you’ll need: fairy godmother, magical animal friends

Songlist: When you wish upon a star

Further reading: Household stories from the collection of the brothers Grimm

Beauty and her Beast

I have a confession: I spent three hours last night watching the finale of The Bachelorette, in which the lovely Emily Maynard got engaged to her Prince Charming. The man she chose as her fiancé had previously said of her, “Emily gives me the feeling that people write fairy tales about.”

The Bachelor franchise has an obsession with fairy tale endings. Contestants often speak in fairy tale terms as they describe their dates of dining in castles or swimming with dolphins in the world’s most gorgeous places (actually, they more often speak in ridiculous metaphors such as “Today we jumped off a helicopter together into the ocean, because, you know, love is a leap of faith”). It’s a natural comparison to make because fairy tale endings are romantic, simplistic, and, oh, they don’t last.

On Saturday night I went to a brilliant performance of Into the Woods, the Stephen Sondheim musical that follows Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack of Beanstalk fame, and Rapunzel to their happily ever afters…and beyond. For the initiate, intermission is confusing since the characters have each already accomplished all they set out to do–what more do we need to see? In the second half, though, we find out that while Cinderella has stopped running, her prince hasn’t given up chasing. Jack slew a giant, but now the giant’s wife is hungry for vengeance. And characters start dying. After a frivolous first half, the second half is surprisingly sobering.

Which is like that time I watched the non-Disney version of The Little Mermaid and found out the original Ariel committed suicide to spare her beloved prince. Ouch.

Fairy tales are not particularly happy places to live in. Sure, a lot of the Grimm Brothers’ tales end in marriage, but first there are deals with the devil, murders, severing of limbs, and disowning of family members. In one particularly gruesome story, a stepmother feeds her stepson to her husband so that her daughter may be the only heir. And then, of course, a magical bird drops a millstone on the evil stepmother and the son is returned to the father, happy and whole.

Moral of the story: don’t try to live in a fairy tale unless you’re really good at communicating with birds. Emily Maynard, start working on your songs.

Know your songs

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Here’s a handy guide to a few common birds and their songs:

Which one is your favorite?

The grand square

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Easier than it looks. Also harder than it looks.

In the 1930s, educator Dr. Lloyd “Pappy” Shaw realized that America would soon lose one of her greatest traditions, a tradition whose proponents were quickly dying off. Pappy took it upon himself to travel the country and document all the square dance versions he could find. He then began to teach students and teachers this new collection of steps. Pappy published “Cowboy Dances” in the 1950s right when returning WWII veterans were starting to pair up, and a boom was born (coincidence that the square dancing boom overlapped with the baby boom? I think not).

It’s because of ol’ Pappy that square dancing was a unit in my gym class from 1st-3rd grade. One time I got paired up with my crush, Noah, and it was only during a promenade that I realized Noah had peed himself. End of crush. Thanks, Pappy.

Last night at the Rustic Pine Tavern we filed into a dim, sweaty room for the weekly square dance. While most of the attendees were under 12 or over 50, there were a few cowboys in full getup along the wall. At 17 I would have desperately wanted one of these boys to ask me to dance the first square with him.

As it happened, though, I’d come with 7 family members which meant we formed a full square by ourselves. All capable of discerning right from left, we didn’t need any extra help from the caller. The same caller, I’ll note, was leading these dances 9 years ago when I lived on the ranch just up the road. The songs haven’t changed since 2003–or, I’d guess, 1973–either.

While we were quite competent, I did notice that the cowboys added a lot more flourishes to their dancing. If you want to impress that lady, you better twirl her more times than she’s ever been twirled. You also better not pee your pants.


Curator of the soul

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To curate:

1. Select, organize, and look after items in a collection or exhibition.

2. Select acts to perform at a music festival.

See, now, I didn’t know that second definition until last December when a local hip-hop group, Doomtree, had a seven-night “blow-out” at Minneapolis’s famed First Ave. The first five nights, Sunday to Thursday, were devoted to one specific member of the group and his or her guests; the final two nights displayed Doomtree all together. I’m a Facebook fan of Doomtree’s sole female, Dessa, and thus was especially excited to see her announcement of which guests she was bringing in on Tuesday, the night she would be curating. Since Dessa is an extremely intelligent woman with highly creative diction, I thought her usage of the world was wonderfully fitting and inventive. Fitting yes, inventive no.

The origin of the word curator comes from the Latin curare, which means “to care for,” especially in the spiritual sense. I love this etymological clue as to the job of the curator: ushering forth art and music which is both of the spirit and to care for the spirit. In this sense, what else could a curator do? Perhaps curate ingredients in an exquisite dish? (A curry, of course). Curate a highly engaging lecture?

I’ll give Dessa the last word on this one:

Pas de deux

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Let’s end on this note, shall we?


On pointe

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While the majority of a ballet dancer’s wardrobe–tutu, leotard, tights–is required mostly due to tradition, pointe shoes are an absolutely necessity. They are the only exterior tool a ballet dancer uses, and they must be perfect. Pointe shoes represent the entire paradox of ballet: something that looks so beautiful and light to the audience requires years of craftsmanship and is only perfected through physical distortion. And they are often only used in one performance before being discarded. The movie Center Stage shows what ballerinas do to mold shoes to their feet:

Colum McCann’s lovely and brutal novel Dancer, an account of ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev’s life, is famous long sentences that make up entire chapters. I especially love the 6-page sentence that describes a ballet shoemaker’s work. Tom Ashford, master pointe shoe maker, shivers “to think how [Margot Fonteyn] handles his shoes once she gets them, shattering the shank to make it more pliable, banging the shoes against doors to soften the box, bending the shoe over and over so it feels perfect on her feet, as if she has worn it forever…”

My favorite part of this sentence is the last bit, as Tom is contemplating the sketches he’s just gotten for the forty pairs of shoes ordered by Nureyev:

“by the sketches alone [Tom] knows the life of this foot, raised in barefoot poverty and–from the unusual wideness of the bone structure–bare on concrete rather than grass, then squeezed into shoes that were too small, coming to dance later than usual given the smallness yet breadth of the foot, 7EEE, then a great violence done by excessive training, many hard angles, but a remarkable strength…”

I love the idea of an artisan understanding his craft so well that he becomes like a reverse fortune teller: instead of reading the future from a palm, he reads a man’s history from his foot.

A lamentation of swans

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Exactly one week from right now, I’ll be suited up as a raven for the world premiere of a flamenco performance, Zorro in the Land of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker. This show is a mix of Spanish flamenco music with Ojibwa lore, in which ravens represent  message-bearers and truth-tellers. Six of us women form the raven chorus, or, as we like to call ourselves, the murder.

Just as a group of ravens is known as a murder, so a group of swans can be called a lamentation. Poetic, no?

Birds are a natural creature to portray through dance because of their symbolic qualities as well as their movements. (Our raven dances feature large black shawls–common to flamenco and Ojibwa dance, while also being representative of wings–and some of our choreography is meant to mimic the swooping of the flock). So it’s no wonder that one of the most famous ballets of all time is Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, made possibly even more famous by last year’s Best Picture Oscar nominee Black Swan.

One can’t but help think of the gracefulness of swans when watching the long limbs of Gillian Murphy as Odette, the white swan:

The pas de quatre is similarly avian:

Natalie Portman gives her all as the black swan:

And then there’s this Chinese version of Swan Lake, which is just ridiculous. In all the best ways.

How to be a ballerina

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What you’ll need: pointe shoes, long legs

Songlist: Swan Lake, Nutcracker Suite

Further reading: Dancer by Colum McCann

Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev

The other night my boyfriend and I were making dinner with Beethoven and Schubert playing in the background. Between chopping onions and putting the bread in the oven, I pirouetted around on stockinged feet and pretended to go on pointe. I ruefully commented to my boyfriend that I wished I’d stuck with ballet–it so beautifully expresses what I hear in classical music.

Like many young girls, I had dreams of becoming a ballerina. My mom took me to beginning ballet classes when I was four, but after a few months I complained that preschool tired me out too much, and I didn’t have the energy to dance. (I wonder what “dancing” consisted of at that stage–practicing feet and arm positions?)

My favorite movie in high school, Center Stage, convinced me that I’d made the right decision to quit ballet before I even really got going. Ballet itself is beautiful, but it’s incredibly difficult on the body and the movie highlights the intense competition that American dancers face to get to the top. I never would have made it–my legs aren’t long enough. Also, a professional ballet dancer is like any professional athlete, who, after submitting his or her body to the grueling workouts necessary to become the best of the best, only really has a few good years before the body gives out.

It wasn’t until after college that I tried dance classes again–flamenco, this time. Unlike ballerinas, flamenco dancers are thought to only become better with age, as the range of life’s experiences allow a dancer to fully express deep emotion via movement. I’m thankful that at 25 I’m still considered a spring chicken–I’m the youngest in our dance company–and I can imagine dancing flamenco for decades to come.

Still, sometimes I look at those dancers in my flamenco company who have a solid ballet background and admire their grace, the way the hold themselves at all times. You can tell when someone is or has been a ballet dancer–they sit differently, they walk differently. Ballet leaves its mark on muscles and bones. An art form that molds the performer to the dance: it’s a thought both terrifying and beautiful.


Degas's ballerinas

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