Valley Girl Attorney Will NOT Be Going to Bahia!

decision I won all ready to be served

Yesterday at work, I got a call from a reporter from a big law journal here, wanting to do a short interview with me about the case I recently won. I was getting lunch when he called, so he left a message. When I returned to my desk and listened to my voice mail, I freaked out a bit. I’ve never spoken to the press before! So, I re-read my brief and the D.A.’s brief, re-read the Court’s decision about eight or nine times, even re-read some of the cases I relied on and the Court cited. I was so nervous. I mean, I think I am the typical appellate attorney: i.e. a bookish writer-type, who can’t talk her way out of a paper bag — which is why I am an appeals lawyer, and not a trial one, after all! Ugh. I took so much time re-reading everything in sight, that I must have returned his call too late in the day, and missed him, because I sat by the phone, like a high-schooler waiting desperately for the boy she likes to call her back, until well into the evening. Around 7ish, I finally decided it was time for me to leave the office for the day; I figured he’d call back tomorrow.

I was so frazzled in the evening, I thought I’d better do something to bring my stress level down a notch. So … I took a dance class of course! But, in keeping with my New Year’s resolution to not spend so much money, I opted for a street Samba class at the Alvin Ailey extension, for $15, instead of another ballroom lesson, for about $10,000. Which means, I saved $9,985!!! Which means I can attend one more Met ABT performance!!!

Seriously. Street Samba: insane. INSANE. I’ve never felt so stupid in my life! We started out doing these crazy stretches, making me realize just how inflexible I really am. Then, only a half an hour into the hour-and-a-half-long class, the teacher — the other-worldly, completely beyond human, impossibly amazing, Quenia Ribeiro, began with like, advanced advanced ADVANCED hip swaying, pelvis contorting, just crazy moves. The class was supposedly for beginners!?! First step — FIRST step — was this African-based (I know this, because I’ve seen it at Broadway Dance Center‘s West African class’s student showcase) traveling move, except instead of simply opening up arms and legs as wide as possible sideways while somehow bouncing forward, she moved her pelvis back and forth in this really beautifully sexy way. I tried and tried and tried to imitate her, but couldn’t in any way, shape, or form do anything even close to her with my mid-section. Happily, I managed to figure out where my feet, at least, were supposed to go on the floor. Right at the second I was feeling like, okay, I look like an enormous ass, but at least I know where TO GO on the floor, the drummers started drumming (live band by the way, singing in Portuguese, which means they were really Brazilian — how the hell they managed not to laugh themselves silly watching us, I’ll never know…) , and Quenia started moving AT THE BEAT THEY WERE BEATING TO — basically, the speed of light. In trying like hell to keep up, I flailed about wildly, smacking this poor Asian woman next to me right in the face. She stepped on me, though, so it was okay! Seriously, the few of us in the back section were spending more time apologizing to each other than anything else.

It didn’t take me long to realize it was just not going to be happening with me. I mean, this woman just moved in ways that I didn’t know possible. Her pelvis was darting back and forth — both front to back and side to side, so fast it was just a blur. I had to grab onto the back barre just to steady myself while watching her. This was NOTHING like the ballroom style of Samba I know! Had nothing in common with it whatsoever. I mean, it was still interesting, but just wasn’t me. As a skinny white girl, I know I will never ever EVER be able to move like this woman. And the funny thing is, after I finished my rotation squirming down the floor I stood at the back barre and watched the rest of the students. And, apart from about four really good ones, who you could tell were her very serious dedicated students, no one was really dancing Samba. They were all, however, rocking out madly, and were laughing hysterically and obviously having great fun doing so — unlike me, who just couldn’t get over the fact that I couldn’t do it properly. The really fundamentally pathetic thing about me, I realized, is that, these people, though they weren’t doing Samba, still all had obviously danced a lot at clubs before and just had either a natural or developed sense of rhythm and awesome, for lack of a better term, booty-shaking skills. I, on the other hand, had none. They may not having been dancing Samba but they were most definitely DANCING; I — I looked like Gumby basically.

Well, I felt STRONGLY like giving up, but forced myself to give it the old college try — more because I knew I’d feel stupid making a scene either walking out of class or sitting down in back than anything else. The reason I managed to make it through the whole class — nearly the whole class anyway — was because I assured myself that, even though I was making a gigantic ass of myself, no one was looking at me; people were concentrating on themselves, on having themselves a blast. And this little mantra worked. Until …

alvin ailey extension school

…until I turned to look out the window, and saw, to my horror, about twenty to thirty people — men, women and children, on the outside of the building staring right back at me, bemused looks overflowing their faces. Turns out this handy little covering on Ailey’s ground-level studio windows is not really a covering — if outsiders walk up close, they can see everything going on inside. And since Samba is so much blasted fun, the music pouring out through the windows and onto the sidewalk, we attracted the attention of every passerby… And I had thought I was SMART to stay in the back of the class — ie: by the window, and not by the mirror! Idiot idiot idiot!

Anyway, I tried and tried, but to no avail. I never did get it. Just when I thought we were done, at about ten minutes until the end of the hour, and everyone was applauding the band, Quenia announced that we’d now completed the Bahia part of the class; now, it was time to learn the Rio style. Good lord, I thought; there’s more?! And funny thing, absurdist thing was, Rio was actually much closer to what I knew from ballroom! I mean, there was still a lot of upper-body arm and upper torso movement, and hips were looser and steps bigger, but I actually recognized some of the moves! I saw bota fogos, and voltas, and bachacatas — my favorite!!! I nearly peed my jazz pants! Legs were kept a little closer together than in Bahia, and Rio was, to little ballroom whitey me anyway, more familar to my body, more jazzy, more Latiny, just more me. And I swear, Quenia looked right at me when I was coming down the line, and just kind of smiled, as if to recognize that (even though there were at least 20 students in the class), she could see how much trouble I was having with Bahia (you’d have to have been blind not to); and now here I was doing something not completely ludicrously wrong! Ah! So, at least now I know that Rio-style Samba is the kind that I like, that I can actually aim towards even if, with my body type, I may not ever look completely right doing it… Throughout class, I was thinking how much I just wanted it to end, how I’d look back on this and laugh but would never ever come back, but at the very end of it, I was actually reconsidering. Maybe I will visit Quenia again, especially if she spends more than the last ten minutes on Rio!!! Anyway, my mind was very successfully taken far off of reporter guy!

First thing this morning, he called. The minute the phone rang, I reached for the paper on which I’d written out my ‘statement.’ Of course, once I started to recite it, he interrupted and started asking me some questions. And he was so nice and warm and easy to talk to (do they learn to be this way in J school??) I couldn’t help but just go along with him and speak what I thought, off the top of my head. After I hung up, I realized that, though I said what I wanted to say content-wise, when I’m relaxed and speaking freely, I tend to use lots of “likes” and “totallys” and “I means” and “ums,” and now I’m all worried, if he took down word for word what I said, I’m going to sound like ‘Valley Girl attorney’! I can just see the write-up: “‘I was like, oh my god, I totally can’t believe the trial Judge like did that, like that was soooo totally wrong,’ says Ms. Plank…” My office-mate assured me that I most definitely did not sound like that, but I’m still worried! Will have to wait and see…


  1. I did kickboxing a few years ago, where this was HUGE open window near a stop light. And the cars would stop at the light and just stare at you. It made me work out much harder because I didn’t want to be “the lazy girl” to these complete strangers.

  2. BRILLIANT post! You create such vivid mental pictures! Congrats on the interview, and for sticking out the class. I’ve certainly had times when I wanted to run and hide from a dance class…

  3. Just wanted to stop by and say how much I am loving reading your blog. So many entries, even entries like this one, make me fall in love with the dance world all over again. After a 15 year layoff, I’ve just gone back to taking ballet classes in NYC, despite the fact that I’m pushing 50, and I’ve stepped into more than one “beginner” class that was *way* advanced. It was great fun to read your description of the class at Ailey. I could really relate! 😉

    Keep up the wonderful work!
    Karen V.

  4. I looked you up in the NYLJ today – nice!! And you don’t come across like a Valley girl.

  5. Thank you so much for the wonderful compliments, you guys! It makes me so happy that people enjoy reading about my (oftentimes very silly) dance experiences and that you all can relate to the difficulty and feelings of inadequacy, but also to the wonder and beauty of dance too! Very sweet compliments! Thank you 🙂

  6. Oh and thanks, Parker! I’m so glad he didn’t quote very much… I can’t believe it made the front page! Was going to blog about it later today, but it’s so nice out, I have to get outside and enjoy the outdoors — can you believe this weather???

  7. Hey, congrats on the article!

    I have to say, I get a sick kind of enjoyment from that moment where I’ve been learning something slow, and then the music is a bajillion times faster and I’m kind of in over my head with the whole thing. Yes, like I said, it’s sick, but I suspect that all people who study dance a little too seriously have their own little masochistic eccentricities.

  8. Loved your Alvin Ailey story. I am inspired to try it out too. … and I can also relate to your $15 vs $10000 comment 🙂 Its hilarious!

  9. wow, I´m so envy that u got to take a class at the Ailey Center! it´s my dream to take classes there, their facilities must be wonderful!
    Your description of the class is so funny!!! It´s nice to see that you had a good time after all.
    Now, to be honest with you, here there isn´t really a difference between the samba danced in Bahia and the one danced in Rio, I think these people who teach it abroad do that split to make it seem more interesting or something….There is a difference in those places Carnaval´s, but not on the way to dance samba itself…or maybe she´s calling “samba” something that´s actually known as “axé”, a Bahia´s particular rythm… well I can tell you more about it when we go out someday.
    But don´t worry, when you actually come here you´ll see that it doesn´t really matter how you dance (which you probably do better than some Brazilians, anyway!), it´s just a matter of interacting with the fun and intense atmosphere of the party!
    And if you can, don´t skip Bahia, it´s a very interesting state! 😀

  10. I really had no idea that there was a bahia style and a rio one. Interesting! because to me it all looks the same =/ and as I’m the only brazilian who cant samba…

  11. Ha ha – – Cathy! I’m SURE you can dance samba very well! I know, I HAVE to come out there someday and see everything — I’m not sure if I can afford to come for Carnival unfortunately, but I definitely have to come at some point!

    Well, you guys, it looked to me (with my completely untrained eyes that have never been to Brazil before 🙂 ) that what she called Bahia (oh, she also called the Bahia one Samba Reggae — like after the reggae-ish rhythm, maybe?..) looked more like what I’ve seen called West African. The Rio one looked more jazzy, like with sassy little tip-toe steps — I can’t describe it very well; you’ll have to come watch that class sometime when you get here, Dea! And you should definitely try the Ailey studio — the building is brand new and their studios are all so gorgeous!

    Rony, you should definitely try that class. It is crazy though! I think I’m going to order her video (she has it for sale on her website) and try to learn some from that. I still haven’t decided if I have the nerve to go back to the actual class again! We’ll see…

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