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SPOTLIGHT:
DANCE AND THE CITY
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Dance and the City: Visions of Sugar Plums

by Rachel Levin
December 21, 2004
Los Angeles, CA

Visions of Sugar Plums

By Rachel Levin
12/21/04

Call me the Sugar Plum Fairy.

No, not the one dancing on pointe shoes in a festive tutu. I'm the one leaping from holiday party to holiday party consuming all manner of sugary delight and frothy drink.

From pumpkin gingerbread to Christmas shortbread to key lime pie martinis, my dancer's figure is certainly suffering in the holiday season.

Watching one's figure is a priority for most single girls, but the pressure is compounded when that girl is a dancer. In both the dating and dancing arenas, there is ample opportunity for body scrutiny. Perhaps no one diets or swears off carbs more vehemently than a dancer auditioning for a company and a woman in her 30s searching for a husband. Put these two together and you've got some serious food guilt to contend with. It's odd that the pursuit of passion - whether in dance or romance - is so inextricably linked with stringent discipline. But there's nothing like a gift of homemade cranberry orange bread or box of chocolates to challenge your devotion to denial.

At my most recent holiday shindig, after eating several pinenut cookies, a fistful of kettle corn, and a slice of four-layer chocolate and vanilla cake, I knew something had to be done. I needed to dance this off! I was dateless this particular night, so after the party I decided to head to a club partner-less. I was right near Café Danssa in West L.A., where the M.I.L.A. Samba School band plays raucous Brazilian music on Friday nights. That sounded like exactly what I needed.

There were mostly couples on the floor, but I didn't care. I was on a mission: burn off four layers of cake! I planted myself amid the couples and set about working up a sweat.

Several Brazilian women were dancing in a group next to me, and I couldn't help but notice (and covet) their slender figures. It always amazes me how tiny Brazilian women are despite the delicious cuisine of the country. I've been at backyard Brazilian barbecues where the slimmest girls partake heartily of grilled meat, rice with yucca flour, and black beans, yet don't seem to gain an ounce.

As I watched the women next to me dance, I realized why they're so svelte despite the food: they dance as passionately as they eat. Legs aflutter, arms paddling in the air, hips grinding, these women looked to be burning off everything they had consumed that day - but naturally, unconsciously, and with joy.

In America, exercise is often conceptualized as a binge-purge cycle. Eat donut, climb Stairmaster. Finish plate of pasta, swim laps. We too often conceive of physical activity as a punishment for pleasure or compensation for indulgence rather than a fluid part of our daily self-expression. Even the term we use for exercise - "workout" - implies a laborious process. Movement isn't naturally integrated into the culture as it is in places like Brazil. Perhaps that's why obesity continues to plague America.

I hated the fact that I'd been equating two hours of sensational music and giddy dance with four layers of cake. Why couldn't I just be dancing to dance? If I could dance like this every night, weight management would never be an issue, and I wouldn't have to feel beholden to the binge-purge cycle.

I left Danssa feeling happily sweaty, a little more comfortable in my pants, and with a resolution to integrate a bit of Brazil into my everyday life in the coming year: eat, drink, love, and dance all with equal gusto.

Café Danssa
11533 Pico Blvd. (between Sawtelle and Barrington)
Fridays: Brazilian Samba School and Orchestra, 9:30 p.m. - 2:00 a.m.
$10 cover includes samba lesson at 9:30 p.m.

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