Karaoke: Japan’s Gift to the Language Learner

26 Mar

Four years living in a different country will change anyone. Especially if that country is Japan!

If you’ve ever known anyone who has lived (for an extended period of time) in Japan you’re bound to notice that they’ve picked up a few “interesting” habits and I’m no different;

Not wearing shoes in the house, sitting on the floor despite having a perfectly good sofa right next to you, eating salad with chopsticks (Try it. It’s so much easier), not feeling like you’ve finished a meal until you’ve had a bowl of rice (or two), bowing even while on the phone… the list goes on.

Salad with chopsticks? Try it. You'll never try to stab a piece of lettuce with a fork again!

Salad with chopsticks? Try it. You’ll never try to stab a piece of lettuce with a fork again!

Japanese was the first language that I learned to fluency and I have one of Japan’s greatest exports to thank for that: Karaoke! This article will cover how you can use it to learn any language to fluency “WITHOUT EVER HAVING TO SING IN PUBLIC”!!!

Why Karaoke?
Karaoke in Japan is as much a part of the culture as rice-balls and ramen. If you live there, it becomes part of your life; you go out for dinner with your friends, you end up singing karaoke; you have a staff party with your colleagues, you end up singing karaoke; it’s Wednesday, you end up singing karaoke. And the Japanese take their national passtime pretty seriously so you learn fairly quickly to improve your karaoke game.

I realized that I was going to need to learn some Japanese songs to keep my coworkers happy and in doing so I realized that practicing karaoke is a fantastic way to improve my Japanese in three major areas:

  • Pronunciation: listening to a song and repeatedly trying to match the way pronunciation of the singer is an amazing way to improve your accent and how you sound in your target language. I’ve spoken previously about how important pronunciation and understandability are when speaking a second language. Repeating a song over and over again allows you to practice the vocal chord/lip movements and breath control necessary to imitate a new language.
  • Reading: karaoke involves reading the lyrics of a song in your target language at (what can be) a pretty challenging pace. That challenge and stepping out of your comfort zone can lead to a huge improvement in your reading speed.
  • Vocabulary: learning (or at least practicing) the lyrics of songs inevitably leads to you learning new words and ways to use them and they tend to stick better when you mix in a catchy tune (I can still recite songs in Irish that I learned as a child in primary school)

How to Karaoke!!! (without the humiliation of actually singing in public)
So, how do you actually go about improving your Japanese (or any language) with Karaoke? It’s as easy as following these 3 (or 4) easy steps.

  1. Pick your Songs: Find songs that you enjoy and that are of a relatively easy tempo. It’s important to start with slow songs at the beginning as it’s easier to keep up and follow the lyrics on screen. Starting off by trying to follow the lyrics of a fast paced rap song is not a good idea, no matter how much you like the song. Love songs (cringe) are usually ideal, just like this one below which became one of my karaoke staples.

    Download the songs to your computer/phone or create a specific “Lyrics” playlist on Youtube (some videos will even have the lyrics included) so you can always access them easily.
  2. Find and Save the Lyrics: Thanks to the good old internet you can now find the lyrics for virtually any song instantaneously. Find the lyrics for your chosen songs and save them in some form of file on your computer or on your phone. I personally save them to the memo app on my iphone (check out the picture below) but I’m sure there are better, more organized ways to store them for easy access. At this point you can also look up any new vocabulary or grammar that you don’t understand so you can actually know what the song is really about.

    This is how I save lyrics to songs I want to my practice in the memo app of my phone.

    This is how I save lyrics to songs I want to my practice in the memo app of my phone.

  3. Practice: Here’s the fun part. When you have some down time just play the song you want to practice and recite the lyrics trying to match the cadence, intonation and sound of the singer. You can do it in the privacy of your own room and no one ever has to know about your new karaoke fetish. You can even practice in public without bothering anyone or appearing to be a total psychopath. For example, whenever I’m using public-transport I pop in my headphones and listen to my “Lyrics” playlist (I have one for Japanese and one for Spanish). Then I either recite the lyrics in my head as the song plays or I lip-sync the song. I consider lip-syncing the better option as you actually practice the mouth movements needed to produce the sounds. People do this on public transport all the time anyway (and it’s only annoying if they actually do start singing out loud).
  4. (OPTIONAL) Rock some Karaoke: When you feel like you’ve gotten the hang of a few songs, why not show your native-speaking friends how you can rock out and sing with the best of them during a night of unbridled, laser-illuminated mirror-balled, karaoke fury…
    …or just sing in the shower like a normal person!

    Just think. With a little practice, this could be you!

                                                      Just think. With a little practice, this could be you!

Time Efficient and Free
The reason I’m such a fan of this method for learning a language is that it ticks a couple of boxes that are important for me:

  • It can be done whenever you’re on public transport or driving or just chilling out at home

  • It is completely free

  • You can store the songs and lyrics on your phone and have them with you at all times

  • In all my time learning languages I have found this gives you some of the best bang for your buck when I comes to speaking improvement in relation to time invested.

If you’re sitting at home in front of a computer right now you could literally start practicing this method in less than 30 seconds i.e. the time it takes to find a song on youtube and its corresponding lyrics. There’s no reason not to give it a try.

Do I sing well now?
F%&K NO! But I now have a repertoire of Japanese (and Spanish) songs that I can belt out (as long as I have the lyrics to follow on screen) whenever I end up at a Shidax. More importantly it has improved my spoken Japanese and Spanish considerably, which I’m happy enough with.

Get singing folks.

**********************************************************************

Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular  🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”I’d really appreciate it  😉

What Women Want… from a dance! (Tips to make you a better lead)

10 Feb

What do women want?

This question has stumped MAN-kind since the dawn of time and continues to frustrate the less-attractive sex on a daily basis.

Obviously, I’m not talking about knowing what women want from a potential mate in the dating-game… clearly I’ve already mastered that (hahahaha… excuse me, I couldn’t keep a straight face with that one!). No, today I want to talk about something far more pertinent to those men that spend their free time on the dance floor. I’m going to talk about what women want from a dance… not from a potential mate but from a lead!

“As if a MAN could answer that!!!”
… I can hear all you ladies screaming at your screens right now! You are right to doubt my opinion on this matter, I doubt it myself! So, with my gender-imposed shortcomings in mind I decided to take it upon myself and do something most men never do… “ask”.

R & D
I decided to write this article quite a while back so I began my research by asking a multitude of salsera friends of mine to tell me what, exactly, they most enjoyed from a dance/lead. For the sake of completeness I asked women from various different countries in Europe, Asia and North & South America who dance different styles of salsa socially and/or professionally. Basically, what that means is that I’ve ended up with information from a culturally diverse group or L.A., New York & Cuban social dancers, teachers and performers (the scientist in me wouldn’t have it any other way).

My eyes have been opened
I ended up getting a lot of different opinions but there were clearly quite a few common points that all of my sources brought up; some things I instinctively knew (after so long dancing, one would hope so); some things I needed a little reminder of and some things I had never even considered before. I imagine a lot of the gentlemen reading this will be in the same boat. In other words, I’m giving ya pure gold!

I’ve listed this cornucopia of knowledge with which I have been bestowed, below. Any points that were mentioned by multiple ladies appear near the start of the list with less commonly mentioned points following. Any commentary after the points is my own (influenced by what my sources wrote themselves).

So, without further ado, I present you with, quite possibly…

The most important tips that a salsa lead will ever need…

(you know, besides actually learning how to dance… which is kind of important too).

  • Show your partner you’re enjoying yourself
    There is nothing worse than dancing with someone who looks like they’re either bored out of their mind or terrified of making a mistake. Dancing is meant to be fun so feel it and show it. Smile and you’ll make your partner smile too.

    Letting your partner know you're having fun is one of the best things you can do as a lead.

    Letting your partner know you’re having fun is one of the best things you can do as a lead.

  • Show your partner that you’re dancing with her
    In a dance there is only the couple and the music and once you’ve asked someone for a dance you’ve basically committed to them for the entire song. Show your mutual connection with eye contact. You should only be focused on your partner when having a dance and not on whatever else is going on on the dance floor. Equally the dance is “not all about you” so don’t use your partner as prop to show off your moves.
  • Have a clear but NOT forceful lead
    You do not need to tear off a woman’s arms to get her to follow you. A good lead should be able to indicate clearly and painlessly which way you would like your partner to go. Timid leads (due to being afraid to touch your partner) and (sometimes) leading by the hips or the stomach are no good either. Also, don’t forget that if you use your thumbs to clamp down on your partners hands, she has the right to dig her nails into you in return. If you want an idea of what a good lead feels like, check out my article on the Cloudy Dancer.
  • Musicality
    This is by far the hardest concept to explain to those that don’t yet understand it. Be familiar with the music, appreciate the changes in tempo, start slow, get to know your partners style and build up into the dance, allow breaks for some shines and know when you need to up the ante or chill things out a little. I hate using this phrase but you need to learn to “Feel the Music” and translate it into your dancing.
  • KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid
    “A simple dance, danced well and on time is much better than a dance packed with moves that don’t work and end up off time”. Don’t dive straight into a dance by stringing together a unending combination of turn patterns and tricks without even listening to the song itself and exhausting your partner after just 3 minutes. Yes, use your tricks, but learn to enjoy the simpler aspects of dance.
  • Adjust to your partners level
    Just because you can do a certain move with certain people doesn’t mean that everyone will be able to follow you. It’s really disheartening and frustrating to a girl if she has a lot of trouble following you just because you’re trying to show off and don’t care if she can keep up. Start slow, adjust to her level and you can still have a great dance.
  • Don’t teach during a dance
    Following on from the last point, just because a girl can’t follow one of your moves doesn’t mean that you should stop right there in the middle of the song to show her what she’s doing wrong. It can be pretty humiliating. Finish the dance, have fun and maybe if she want’s to learn how to do it you can show her, off the dance floor.
  • Take care of your partner
    “Using me as a battering ram to clear yourself a space is NOT a good thing”. You are the lead and from the moment you lead a girl onto the floor to the moment you escort her off, you are in charge of her safety. Keep an eye out for potential collisions on the dance floor, don’t preform any dangerous moves, don’t tug roughly to lead. A good partner will of course keep an eye out for you too 😉

And that’s it. There were a few more points mentioned but these were the most common ones amongst the women I asked.

If you need anymore tips, check out my guide to salsa dance etiquette to get the ball rolling.

Men: Read them, learn them and most importantly, apply them and watch your salsa cred grow.

Ladies: What do you think? Is this what you want on the dance floor? Have I left anything out? I’d love to hear your opinions so let me know in the comments.

Keep dancing folks.

**********************************************************************

Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular  🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”I’d really appreciate it  😉

 

How to Cook & Track Your Macros for IIFYM (Return of the Cooking Irishman)

13 Jan
Quick, Healthy and Macro-Friendly Chorizo & Vegetable Omelette. I can still taste that chorizo-goodness

Quick, Healthy and Macro-Friendly Chorizo & Vegetable Omelette. I can still taste that chorizo-goodness

Happy New Year all!

I hope you all had a ball over the holidays, spent with family and friends and if you’re anything like me, enjoying lots of delicious food.

In December I posted an article about IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) and how it can be used to make losing, maintaining or gaining weight more enjoyable. I use an IIFYM-type of approach to my own diet nowadays and I have to admit that I’ve never enjoyed eating while achieving my weight goals as much as I do now.

To make the whole concept of IIFYM easier to understand I’ve decided to make a few videos showing you how I apply it to my daily life while also sharing a few very easy and very healthy recipes.

In the video below I’ll show you how to make a delicious Chorizo & Vegetable Omelette and I’ll also introduce you to the wonder that is Proats (specifically with Dark Chocolate and Banana).

I do apologize for the VERY homemade feel of the videos, it’s surprisingly difficult to cook one-handed while filming and narrating a vlog 😉

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and find it useful. If you do give the video a like and maybe follow my channel because I plan on putting up more videos like this in the coming weeks.

Eat well and keep dancing folks.

**********************************************************************

Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular  🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”I’d really appreciate it  😉

Macros, IIFYM, Clean Eating & Enjoying Food over Christmas and Forever

23 Dec

When it comes to diet, my body is a laboratory.

Name a diet and I’ve probably experimented with some variation of it. Atkins, Paleo, Gluten-Free, Vegan… the list goes on. I try it out and I take what I like.

It’s all about finding what works best, continually tweaking it and following a diet that keeps me happy and healthy.

Basically everything I’ve tried until now has led me to my current way of eating… and I am healthy and happy.

Macros, IIFYM, WTF?!
If you follow this blog you’ll know that I like talking about nutrition and fitness and that I’ve written about the Paleo Diet (and why I don’t follow it) andIntermittent Fasting (which I still love) and how I apply aspects of each to my eating habits.

Well, I’ve been experimenting with something else and I have to say that I simply love it the way it allows me to enjoy every type of food imaginable and still stay healthy and lean.

I’m talking about “If It Fits Your Macros” commonly known by its acronym, IIFYM.

In a nutshell, IIFYM is a way of eating that makes you focus on the macros that you eat everyday.

What the heck’s a Macro???
Macros or macronutrients is the umbrella term for Protein, Fats and Carbohydrates, the 3 main energy sources in our diet. They’re what make up the calories of food.

So if you follow IIFYM, you “Track Macros” in your food, usually using one of the many apps available for smartphones such as “My Fitness Pal” (which I absolutely love).

Basically, its a way of food journaling, keeping track of what your eating and trying to keep it within certain calorie/macro limits that you set based on your personal goals (weight loss/gain/maintenance). Food journaling, it turns out, is a really effective way of getting people to stick to their diets. When we write something down, we’re adding a level of responsibility to our food habits and this seems to really help us stick to our goals.

You can find out more about actually calculating your own macro targets here.

Here’s a little secret… MOST DIETS WORK! You’ll hear of people (especially celebrities) trying out a new fad diet and losing loads of weight and you’ll assume that diet must be the answer to your fat loss problems. You’ll get into it all gung-ho, lose weight but then probably gain some of it back. That doesn’t mean the diet is ineffective, it probably means your just not following it as well anymore. You’ve lost compliance.

Tracking macros sounds like a pain in the a$$
For the first week or so, it is. Then, you get used to it and, just like any established habit, it becomes natural and automatic.

The app I recommended above, My Fitness Pal, while not entirely perfect is really easy to use and helps you track and plan your food intake on a daily basis. It also allows you to look back at how you were eating a few weeks ago and compare that to changes in your body weight over time. The best way to learn how to use it is to simply start using it. Best of all, it’s completely free to download to your phone.

Here's a screenshot of a typical calorie/macro tracking app

Here’s a screenshot of a typical calorie/macro tracking app

But why bother?
Here’s the deal, most of the diets I mentioned above, work (somewhat indirectly) by limiting your calories by eliminating or restricting various foods. Restrictive diets, more often than not, result in reduced compliance over time.

For example, if someone told you to do Atkins (a very low carb diet) for a month, you’d lose weight but at the end of the month, you’d probably only have one thing on your mind: eating all the food you “weren’t allowed” during the diet. Bread, cakes, ice-cream, french fries, sugar-dipped deep-fried snickers… it would be a big free for all, that might last a few days or a week and would result in two things:

  • you gaining back all the weight you lost and…
  • you feeling guilty about what you ate

And so begins another restrictive weight-loss/binge cycle. This is pretty typical of “Clean Eating” type diets that work by eliminating various categories of “undesirable” foods. A good example would be Paleo (I’m not trying to demerit Paleo, I’m just saying that it’s a restrictive diet.

With IIFYM, you don’t eliminate any foods.
You can technically eat whatever you want as long as it fits your daily macro targets i.e. as long as you get it to fit your daily goals for calories, protein, fats and carbohydrate. In the case of IIFYM, you control portion size to fit your needs.

Here’s an example of meals I ate yesterday (a pretty typical gym-day of eating):

  • Oat Porridge with Raisins and White Chocolate Whey Protein
  • Kale Salad with Balsamic dressing
  • A Banana
  • Grilled Jamaican Jerk Chicken
  • Over 1kg of Cajun-Spiced roasted Potato Wedges with tomato relish
  • Olive Oil Sautéed Red Onion and Kale
  • More Porridge with Raisins and Whey Protein
  • Half a Passion Fruit and Mango Cheesecake (yeah you read right, half a whole cheesecake)

That added up to about 3,045 calories, 169 grams of protein, 82 grams of fat & 327 grams of carbs.

I actually needed the cheesecake to help me meet my macro targets for the day.

This is an example of how I eat now, and I love it. You can actually see other examples of my meals and macro breakdowns on my Instagram page.

The Problem with IIFYM
Nothing is perfect and there is one, “potentially” huge  problem with IIFYM. From what I’ve seen of other people that practice IIFYM is that there can be a tendency to eat absolutely whatever you want as long as you hit your macro goals. This means that you could technically hit your goals eating junk food and supplementing with a little protein.

THIS IS NOT HEALTHY!!!

IIFYM works when you follow a healthy diet filled with whole foods, vegetables and fruits etc and allowing yourself SOME relaxed (read not so healthy) food too.

If you look at my day of eating above, almost everything I ate was unprocessed apart from the whey protein and the cheesecake. I ate lots of fruit and vegetables and got plenty of protein, fibre and phytonutrients so I had no problem allowing myself the cheesecake at the end of the day.

Would it have been healthier to replace the cheesecake with whole foods? Absolutely! But then I’d also be left craving cheesecake and be more likely to binge on it in the future. This way, I fit it into my daily goals, don’t feel restricted and still woke up this morning with a six-pack. WIN WIN!!!!

The Importance of Whole Foods
The problem with the way we eat these days is pretty simple; we eat food too high in calories and too low in nutrients to maintain health.

The more calories you eat, the more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre we need to help our body deal with the excess energy load. Unfortunately we’ve managed to strip our foods, thanks to processing, so that these days most processed foods just provide us with easily consumed calories and not much else. If I have learned anything so far in all the lectures of this Masters degree in Nutrition that I’m doing, it’s this:

For our body to function optimally we need to provide it with the nutrients it needs while not not consuming more energy than we expend. 

The best way I’ve found to do this is for us to eat a diet rich in vegetables and other unprocessed foods while tracking our macronutrients and allowing ourselves some of foods we love and crave in responsible portionswhile exercising like a beast 😉

A healthy diet should be based on healthy, whole foods with a little leeway for some of the good things in life!

A healthy diet should be based on healthy, whole foods with a little leeway for some of the good things in life!

I exercise (weight training and almost no cardio), I eat a lot to cover my energy needs and I eat enough vegetables to feed a small petting zoo. But on top of that I eat out with friends from time to time and I always make room for some ice-cream or cheesecake or whatever else I feel like. I track what I eat and this way I keep myself happy and healthy.

What about Christmas Dinner?
I track my macros daily and exercise hard to maintain my weight and it works because I do it consistently. The state of our body and health is the result of what we do most of the time!

So am I going to track my macros on Christmas day? F@€K NO! I plan on eating like a beast (and for a small guy I can really down a lot of food). I’ll eat to excess and it’s not going to bother me because it’s just one day.

This will all be mine!

This will all be mine!

However, the very next day I’ll be back in the gym and back counting macros (and enjoying it).

This article is really meant just as an introduction to the concept of something I have found to be very useful in my life. The best way to get into it yourself is to download the app and just start. If you do it right and if you do it consistently, it can help you achieve your diet goals in a way you never thought possible.

Merry Christmas Folks & Eat Well!

What to do when you F&#K up while Dancing!

24 Nov
You’re never so good that you don’t mess up every now and then!

While perfection is a wonderful goal to aim at, helping us aim higher, it is “addictively” unattainable (an important point to keep clear at all times lest you drive yourself mad pursuing something you’ll never have).

However, even though you’ll never be perfect, with practice, you might get pretty damn close (like my ability to put off writing for this blog, I’m getting better but thankfully I haven’t perfected it). This applies to everything  from dance, to languages to professional air-hockey.

So, even if you consider yourself “hot shit”, YOU’RE GOING TO MESS UP SOONER OR LATER!!! How you deal with those little mishaps will play a pretty big role in how you approach your activities in the future.

Make a mistake… You suck… Quit!

If Bill Murray says so, it must be true!

If Bill Murray says so, it must be true!

When I used to teach salsa in Cali, I had one student in particular whom I had to “talk down from the ledge” of quitting salsa on more than a few occasions.

He had some major confidence issues but he was a dedicated student and learned well. His main problems stemmed from his lack of confidence; he was afraid to try new things on the dance floor (especially anything to do with body-movement) and whenever he made a mistake or a dance didn’t go well for him he would pretty much decide to NEVER dance again. On more than one occasion I got text messages from him at 2 or 3am announcing his resignation from the world of salsa, all due to a bad dance. I’m pretty sure I spent about 15% of our time together trying to convince him to get back out dancing and that everyone makes mistakes now and then.

For him, every mistake was a screaming symbol of his incompetence (which he wasn’t) and those beliefs really held him back. It was especially hard to see him like that because I could see both how much he wanted to improve and how much he was sabotaging himself.

Suffice is to say, this is not a good mentality to have when dancing. If everyone gave up when they made a mistake we’d have some pretty empty dance-floors!

It just looks so sad without people dancing on it.

It just looks so sad without people dancing on it.

Learning to laugh at yourself!

I remember one particularly eventful night of dancing in Cali. I was out with a big group of people and we decided to go somewhere different. The place had a huge dance floor, full of people. Near the end of the night the floor started to thin out and I invited my friend Francy out for a dance. 

Francy is a professional dancer and she was one of the few people I could dance LA style salsa with in Cali so we used to have a ball together whenever we got to dance. Now for those who don’t know, typical “social” Cali-style dancing is a pretty simple affair, lots of sabor (hopefully) but simple. So when two people start dancing something a little more involved than Cali style, the people nearby tend to notice. Especially when one of those people is white enough for everyone to safely assume that he’s not Colombian.

We were tearing it up. We had loads of space and the night was coming to an end so we pulled out all the stops. At one point I noticed that we had garnered the attention of quite a number of the people sitting at tables around the dance-floor. For some reason that really got my adrenaline flowing so I may have started throwing caution to the wind. I could hear the music nearing it’s final few beats so I decided to finish it all off with a dip. I thought it would look great as Francy (as a pro) was all about the show and would have struck a great pose at the end.

I heard the final beats, lead her into a cross body lead with turn and as she was turning realized that there were still a couple of beats left in the song… it threw me completely and what happened next involved various flailing arms and legs and a sudden drop in altitude accompanied by the sound “Rrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiip”!

As soon as I came to my senses I realized I was lying on top of Francy, sprawled out on the dance-floor with a decent crowd of people looking at us. I looked at her and she looked at me… and we both burst into laughter!

Seriously, in the milliseconds I had to process everything I decided that it would be far better to take what had happened in my stride and laugh it off together with one of my good friends, than to run off the floor crying and moaning about how awful a dancer I am.

We dusted ourselves off and skipped off the dance-floor together… at which point I realized that I had ripped a gigantic hole in the seat of my jeans when I did my belly flop. Oh well, at least it was the end of the night! (additional lesson to be learned: always wear dark solid color underwear when dancing… pink hearts on a white background tend to be a little to visible in the event of tears!!!)

Even if you mess up and it results in the dance equivalent of this pile-up... just dust yourself off and laugh (or run away quickly)

Even if you mess up and it results in the dance equivalent of this pile-up… just dust yourself off and laugh (or run away quickly)

Laugh it off

At the end of the day, laughing off our mishaps really is the best way to deal with them.

I’m notorious for obsessing over my shortcomings but I always make sure I don’t let that bad attitude get the best of me. If I did I certainly wouldn’t be dancing salsa or doing much else  for that matter.

So, the next time you make a mistake (which if you’re anything like me should be pretty soon) be it missing the beat in the music, forgetting a combination or doing a bellyflop on top of your partner, remember you have two options:

1. Give up right there and then because you’ve made a mistake and no one who has ever become great at salsa ever made any mistakes

OR

2. Laugh it off and get back to doing what you love

Keep dancing folks

**********************************************************************

Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular  🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”I’d really appreciate it  😉

To New York

14 Oct

This day, October 14th, exactly one year ago I arrived in New York city… absolutely terrified!

THE FOLLOWING MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE ACTUALLY HAPPENED

What I’m about to publish here is a letter I wrote exactly 1 year ago, at the start of the almost 24 hour bus ride I took to from South Carolina to New York.

I’m publishing it because I want people to know that:
1. Not all my travels have been the “happy go lucky” kind
2. Life can get scary but you can never let that hold you back… ever

In a sense, it’s my confession, that my time in New York wasn’t as spectacular as I may have made it seem.

To New York

13/10/2013

I’m fucking terrified.

I’ve felt this way all morning since I looked in my wallet and found a single hundred-dollar bill.

I needed to use the vast majority of that to buy my bus ticket from Charleston, South Carolina to New York. So, with the change from that and the cash I have in my pocket (and provided I don’t need to spend any more money along the way) I will arrive in New York City (arguably the greatest city on the face of the earth) with a grand total of $14.45.

I also have a €50 note that I’ve had in my wallet for years (along with other foreign currency) as an emergency fund. It looks like that emergency may really rear it’s ugly head.

I actually thought that there would be 2 hundred-dollar bills waiting for me when I went for my wallet so I genuinely think I must have lost one along the way. That’s pretty inconvenient to say the least.

$14.45
That doesn’t buy much in the good old U.S. of A.

When I get to New York, I’ve already decided that most of that money will go towards some essential groceries. Something cheap and healthy. Something to live on for my first week.

It’s going to be quite a change from how I’ve been eating here in the U.S. up until now. I have been eating well (my waistline will attest to that), especially here in Charleston, enjoying the local “southern” cuisine and being as generous with tips as I can, which hasn’t helped my finances but I’m hoping that it’ll bring me some good karma in New York, especially if I find a job waiting tables… I’m going to need it.

The people I’ve met along the way on this adventure have been great and have really helped me out along the way. Especially in Charleston where I hadn’t planned on staying too long. I had decided to get to NYC as soon as possible after I realized how little cash I had left but the salseros of Charleston managed to convince me to stay a whole week.

All the good times I’ve been having along the way have ensured that my financial situation will be dire when I arrive in the city that never sleeps. And I regret none of it.

I have seen parts of the U.S. I had never seen before, I have done things I have always wanted to do and met amazing people all along the way that make it all the more worth while. This has been an amazing journey for me.

I’m just going to have to pay for it when I get to New York.

The only thing that is keeping me from freaking out completely is the friends I have waiting for me in New York. I have a place to stay, with great people and that makes a huge difference when moving to a new city.

I remember when my mother drove me to the bus station over two years ago, just before I left Ireland to go to Colombia. She kept asking me what I was going to do for work, how I was going to get by, where I was going to live. I just kept replying that I “knew” I would find something. I knew that I would find work, meet new people, find a place to live, make a life for myself in Cali, a city where I had one single contact, a friend of a friend.

That said I also went with the confidence of having healthy savings account to back me up should I need it. That savings account is now empty as is my Japanese bank account that I tended to forget about and that had bailed me out on numerous occasions.

So that’s probably why now, I’m not brimming with the confidence that filled me when I left home for Colombia.

All the money I have in the world is $14.45 and a €50 note,

I will do anything I need to do to earn money when I get to New York. Even in Charleston I was looking for odd jobs and managed to earn $60 (and a great meal) by helping someone clean their house. I’m not “too proud” to do any type of work, you do what you have to do. $60, unfortunately, doesn’t last long.

The last thing I want to do, however, is to have to ask my parents for money. It’s not that I can’t, we have a great relationship and they would give me whatever I needed in the blink of an eye. I’ve just always been proud of the fact that I have never needed to ask them for anything since I graduated from university and got my first job. I don’t want to worry them and I don’t want them to think I’m struggling, like I need to come to them with my tail between my legs after all my gallivanting around the world. I am, it seems, “too proud” for that.

Faking composure on the bus to NYC

Faking composure on the bus to NYC

My mam just sent me a text (yeah, I couldn’t believe my mam knows how to send texts now either!) asking where I am and what towns I’m going to pass through on my way to New York. I just replied and felt the urge to send her a picture of myself smiling on the bus and then finished it off with “Love you loads, mam”. I don’t know where that came from but it made my eyes well up a little.

I have had butterflies in my stomach since I realized where my funds were at (and after a thorough search of my pockets came up with nothing else). They’re like butterflies of dread, nagging me “how could you have let this happen?” “you’re supposed to be smarter than that”, “you’re not going to be able to make it on that”.

I don’t have a choice, I have to make it. I have to find work, work my ass off if I have to. If I don’t I have no way of getting home and I have absolutely no intention of outstaying my legal welcome in the United States, I want to be able to come back. I also have the added worry of getting caught working while I’m here as a tourist. That would mean an instant ticket home, but not the happy kind.

The people I’ve met have been encouraging too. Telling me to keep positive and positive things will happen. I appreciate it and believe it too (although I think they may not have been so ready to say it had they seen the contents of my pockets).

The confidence that I do have comes from my friends and contacts in New York. They’ll help me find a way. Just before I left Colombia, only 6 weeks ago, someone very dear to me, out of the blue, told me that if ever needed money over here, all I had to do was ask. This is someone who is far from well off but it doesn’t matter, friends help friends! I pray that I never have to ask anyone for money (stupid pride) but I can’t begin to describe the comfort it brings to have loved ones who you know have your back.

I will arrive in New York tomorrow. I will take my place on my friends couch. I will start looking for a job from the moment I enter her neighborhood. I will find work and then I can start looking for something I can do more professionally. I will try to find a way to stay in New York (legally) so I can start to really reach the goal of this dance-fueled jaunt around the globe.

I’m writing this now because I really need to get it out of my system. I think I might publish it in a year, well after arriving in New York. I have no idea if I’ll still be there in a year or what I’ll be doing.

Even if I am terrified, I can’t say that I’m not really excited about the whole thing. Fingers crossed!

So, what happened?

I found a job in an Irish bar in Manhattan less than a week after I arrived. I was working only for tips and the place wasn’t even busy at the beginning so the first couple of weeks were rough, one day I even needed to decide if I was going to spend the little cash I had on groceries or on a subway ticket to get me into work. The subway ticket won out!

I worked almost everyday for a minimum of 10 hours, sometimes as many as 13 and put up with one of the most tyrannical bosses I have ever encountered. I put up with it because I had to.

The first decent tip I made. I can't begin to describe the elation I felt when it was slipped into my hand through a slick handshake.

The first decent tip I made. I can’t begin to describe the elation I felt when it was slipped into my hand through a slick handshake.

Anyone following the blog from last year will know that I didn’t write much about the salsa scene in New York while I was there. I simply didn’t have much free time to enjoy it. The couple I did publish while in New York you can find here and here!

I made enough money to buy myself a ticket home to Ireland and the rest, as they say, is history. I never did find a way of staying in New York, but I survived it made it home (unannounced and to the surprise of everyone) and I’m writing this article from my new base in Barcelona. Happy, healthy and safe.

Thank you

To all the wonderful people I met along the way in the states and especially to those who were so good to me in New York (you know who you are) I want to let you know how grateful I am to count you amongst my friends. Thank you and I hope I can repay that kindness one day.

A year goes by quickly!

Keep dancing folks.

**********************************************************************

Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular  🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”I’d really appreciate it  😉

How to Instantly Improve your Accent in a second language

7 Oct

We’ve all met a foreigner who has come up to us to ask a question (maybe directions to the bus station or the nearest bakery… at least that’s what I usually look for in new cities) only to not understand a word they have said to us because of their “heavily” accented English.

Was that some form of Quehua???

Was that some form of Quechua???

They might be speaking grammatically perfect English but their accent signals to our brain that: “This person is speaking some strange language that you don’t understand… possibly Dutch… or Klingon! YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!!!”

It happens all the time. I work part-time in a bar and last week I had an older Finnish guy come up to ask for a drink. I had to ask him to repeat his order 4 times before I realized he wanted a Gin & Tonic. I felt ridiculous and I consider myself to be much better than average at understanding accented English due to over 7 years of living in non-English-speaking countries.

The under-appreciated Importance of Accent
Here’s something that you unfortunately won’t hear much about in your average secondary school language class:

“ACCENT IS IMPORTANT”

Working on your accent in your second language will benefit you in the following ways:

  • it will make you instantly more understandable
  • it will make it easier for native speakers to accept you as a competent speaker of their language

Check out this little video I recorded which shows the difference between Spanish and Japanese spoken in my native Irish accent and then with a much more “neutralized” accent. I think you’ll agree that the neutral accent sounds a whole lot more understandable (but does lose some of its Irish charm 😉 ) 

Eliminate your own accent
So, imitating the accent of another language is not easy. It is by no means impossible but it does take plenty of conscious practice.

What I’m proposing, to begin with, is the much simpler option of just eliminating your own accent.

The easiest way to do this is to focus on what makes your particular accent distinct and then gradually try to eliminate those idiosyncrasies from your second language (where they only help in making you more difficult to understand).

This can run the full gamut from cadence, to pronunciation, to sentence intonation etc. Obviously, the more aspects you focus on, the better.

Let me take a Selfie!
So a great way of doing this is to record yourself speaking your chosen language.

Make a quick video of yourself reading something (newspaper clippings or comics are great). Play it back, analyze it yourself and then decide what parts are making you sound… like a foreigner. Better yet, get a native speaker of your target language to review it for you and help you work on your pronunciation issues.

Then it’s just a matter of practicing the same words or sentences, just without the accent that makes it sound… odd!

Give it a shot. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll be able to improve how you sound, be it in Japanese, Spanish, Klingon or whatever.

Keep talking folks.

**********************************************************************

Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular  🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”I’d really appreciate it  😉

Welcome to the Latin Dance Community

1 Oct

Todays a big day folks.

No, it’s not my pancake day (unfortunatey 😦 ).

No, I haven’t figured out what women really want.

And, no, I am definitely not giving up Salsa to focus on my true love, Merengue.

Today, marks the birth of the Latin Dance Community.

Oooh yeah! We've got a snazzy logo too! Which proves we're legit!

Oooh yeah! We’ve got a snazzy logo too! Which proves we’re legit!

“The what now?” I hear you murmur confusedly as your eyes glaze over. Well, to put in the far more eloquent words of the website:

“Latin Dance Community (LDC) is a collaboration of writers from around the globe who are passionate about latin dance. Our mission is to serve as the leading online resource for the latin dance community by providing entertaining, educational, and informative articles on Salsa, Bachata, and Kizomba.”

Ok, ok so Kizomba may not be a latin dance but it certainly is making its way through latin dance scenes worldwide.

I’m a writer!!!!
Yes, you read right! Me, the Dancing Irishman, I’m officially a writer now (and not just the crazy, old, bearded man sitting at desk made of an old ironing-board supported by empty paint cans, cackling while I right inflammatory blog posts as I drink partially curdled milk from a skull-bowl… as most of you assumed I was. Right?)

I want to say a big thank you to my brother from another mother, Chilly for getting me involved in this little group of dance-literati. It’s a real honor for me to be working with all of them on this project.

To boldly go where no dance website has gone before
The LDC has some pretty modest goals:

  • keeping the world informed on current opinions in latin Dance
  • providing interviews with current dance innovators
  • world domination… making all you dancers happy 😉

So what are you waiting for?

Get your fine ass on over to Latin Dance Community and check out all the great articles we have to offer.

Oh and don’t forget, keep coming back here to The Dancing Irishman for my semi-regular updates on dance, language, nutrition, exercise and pictures of interesting cats.

Keep Dancing Folks.

**********************************************************************

Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular 🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”I’d really appreciate it 😉

 

The Dancing Irishman in Barcelona

25 Sep
Just getting to know my new neighbourhood. That's just the local amphitheater, nothing special.

Just getting to know my new neighbourhood. That’s just the local ancient-Roman amphitheater, nothing special.

So… I live in Barcelona now!

Which means that in the last 4 years or so this is the fourth country I’ve “officially” lived in. After 4 years living and teaching in Japan I left in 2010, lived in Ireland for a year working at the Japanese embassy, moved to Colombia in 2011 working as a freelance translator, came back to Ireland via Cuba and the US at the end of 2013 and now, after all that, I am resident of one of Spain’s most famous cities.

I’m beginning to understand why my friends constantly tell me that they can never envision me settling down in one place. I’m not quite sure if I should be worried or not.

The Irish Diaspora
Since 2006/7 emigration out of Ireland (particularly of young people) has increased significantly; part of the great global economic depression. I was always secretly proud of the fact that I didn’t leave Ireland because I had to, because there was no work for me but because I wanted to experience life in other places. Hence my stays in Japan and Colombia.

This time is a little different
This time, I couldn’t find a job that I wanted to do. A job that I could actually see myself doing and importantly, enjoying, long-term. Anyone who has been following this blog will know from an article I posted a little over a year ago, when I left Colombia, that I left because I wanted to start thinking about what I wanted to do with my life.

Well, this year, living back home on the farm in the far south of Ireland, I had plenty of time to think. If we want to get all “touchy feely” about it, I wanted to do something that I loved. So I had a few options. The blog itself is actually a pretty decent window into the things that float my boat:

  • Dance: After all this blog isn’t called the “Administrating” Irishman. I do love dance and it is a huge part of my life. I’ve even taught dance before but it’s not what I see myself doing in the long term. I’m much happier working on my own dance and learning as much as I can fit in myself.
  • Languages: I’ve been working as a freelance Japanese translator for a few years now and while I enjoy the freedom it affords me, the work isn’t exactly regular. I may have “future” kids to think about and a “future” family to provide for so something a little more stable is called for. Also, my particular field of expertise, biosciences, while interesting, hardly makes for riveting translation.
  • Travel: I really don’t know how I could make a living just traveling the world. If you do, just drop me an email. That said, I think I’ve come to a point where I’m starting to want just one place to call home (other than my family home).
  • Fitness: I love researching fitness, putting it into practice and helping people get started in the gym or just exercising in general. That said, I don’t think I’d really make it as a personal trainer. I just don’t have the pecs for it.
  • Food: Now we’re getting somewhere. I do spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about food; cooking it, eating it, rolling around in it. However, while I considered becoming a chef in secondary school I pretty much turned against the idea when I realized I would probably be working social hours. That, and Gordon Ramsay in “Hell’s Kitchen” scared the crap out of me.
    Which leaves us with…. Drumroll please
  • …Nutrition: I love being able to improve my health through the food I eat, I love reading up on the latest research in nutrition and I really love helping people with their diets. It genuinely makes me feel fulfilled. Add to that the fact of the western world’s expanding waistline and it looks like it may be a rather lucrative little industry too 😉

Sooooo… I am about to start a Masters degree in Nutrition and Metabolism at the University of Barcelona & the University Rovira I Virgilli. Further education is going to be my first stepping stone towards the career I really want.

Why so far away, Irish?
Firstly, it’s cheaper than living and studying in Ireland. Significantly so.

Secondly, it allows me to indulge some of my other loves at the same time (we wouldn’t want to neglect those now would we?):

  • Salsa: Barcelona is well known in Europe for having a spectacular latin dance scene
  • Language: I get to do my Masters through Spanish and maybe learn a little Catalan too
  • Food: it’s just sooooo good here

Presenting… The Nutritioning Irisman!!!!
Hmmm, doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it? Maybe I’ll hold off changing the blog title.

In any case, I’m going to do my best to keep updating the blog and providing you with as much helpful and mildly humorous info as I can… just from Barcelona.

If you have any tips on the salsa scene here I’d be very happy to hear from you.

Keep dancing folks.

**********************************************************************

Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular 🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”I’d really appreciate it 😉

Is it OK to refuse a dance?

19 Aug

This is the article I really didn’t want to write!

I’ve been putting it off for a while now but some recent dance happenings kind of gave me the final push to go through with it. So here it is… ugh!

I want to bring up a little, controversial topic that some people feel pretty strongly about:
“Is it ok to refuse a dance?”

In my experience from speaking to other dancers there are two main sides to this; either “Yes” or “No” (making it appear unrealistically black and white). Before you choose your camp (although many of you will have done so as soon as you read the title), give this article a little read.

I love dance!
I really do… and salsa has changed my life, unquestionably, for the better. So, nothing makes me happier than to promote dance, get new people dancing and to see them improving as dancers and enjoying all the benefits that this “hobby” (for want of a much better word) brings.

I get a buzz out of seeing someone new to salsa, after a few months, really coming into their own and tearing it up on the dance floor. I mean that both as someone who has taught salsa and as a member of the broader salsa community.
I’ve also said it many times before that newcomers to salsa need all the encouragement they can get and they NEED the opportunity to dance with more experienced dancers. That’s how we improve.

One of my personal favourite articles on this blog (I know, I’m so CONCEITED, right 😉 ) is “The Etiquette of Salsa” that covers, amongst other things, the manners of the dance floor and if my mother taught me anything, it’s that I should never wear navy with black… and that manners are important! Thanks mam!

In the article I wrote a section about refusing dances and I think the topic merits repeat here:

“DO NOT REFUSE A DANCE! (The Golden Rule)
I would prefer to say “NEVER refuse a dance” but I rarely use the word “never”, as life is full of exceptions. However, my sentiments on this point verge on those conveyed by the word “never”.

The reason; IT HURTS!

For those of you who are more experienced dancers, try to imagine how nervous you were when you first started dancing. For beginners, it takes a hell of a lot of courage to work up the nerve to ask someone out for a dance. Imagine yourself trying to work up all that courage and finally asking that person you’ve been wanting to dance with all night, only to get shot down. For guys, it ranks pretty close to castration (at least it did for me) and I’d imagine it feels worse for ladies who have the extra hurdle to get over, of not being the sex that normally requests a dance (which I personally believe shouldn’t be the case. I love it when a girl asks me out for a dance).

I remember the first time I was refused a dance all too well. I was in a salsa club in Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong on the second leg of my first salsa training expedition. I was pretty green but I knew a few moves so I decided do ask a dance of a girl I’d seen dancing really well earlier. I walked up to her, smiled and politely asked “Would you like to dance?” to which she responded, without so much as a smile to dull the blow, with “no”, followed by a halfhearted “maybe later”.

After recoiling from the initial shock of (what felt like) having my internal organs ripped out and stepped on in front of me, I picked up what was left of my testicles and scurried away to a dark corner to hide my shame. I did however recover and go on to have plenty more dances that night but I will never forget how I felt.

Beginning salseros need to be encouraged especially  by dancers with more experience. I will dance with anyone (I’ve even danced with men who want to practice their following. That usually gets a few odd looks) because I know how it feels to be refused a dance. I’ll even dance with someone who tells me before hand that they’re not the best dancer or that they’re only a beginner. I’ll just modify what I do to make sure they have as fun a dance as possible.

There are a few situations, however, where it’s ok to say “no”, for example if you don’t like dancing a particular style (like merengue for me), if your last dance was particularly vigorous and you want to take a breather, if you need to go to the restroom etc. You should always smile and explain the reason and tell the person that you will dance the next song with them instead. Be nice.

I try to imagine myself in the shoes of beginners and I try to encourage them with salsa as much as possible along with trying to help them avoid any of the “unpleasant” situations I’ve experienced in the past.”

Let's face it, no body wants this response!

Let’s face it, no body wants this response!

As you can see, at the time I was pretty damn adamant about never refusing a dance. Times, they be a changin’!

What’s happened to you, man?
I used to follow my “Don’t Refuse” policy, almost dogmatically. The problem with dogma is that it results in extremism, be it in religion, politics or professional hotdog eating. I’ve even written about the problems with dogma and the diets we choose to follow. Basically, dogma can make everything appear black and white when we live in a world with multiple shades of grey (maybe as many as fifty… or so I’ve been told).

My “refusal to refuse” has resulted in two things:

  1. I dance with a lot of beginners. Beginners feel comfortable approaching me for a dance, which I’m very happy about and I get to meet lots of new people. It’s fun!
  2. I dance with some people I genuinely dislike dancing with. I’m talking about people that genuinely suck the fun out of dancing and/or make me feel REALLY uncomfortable.

Here’s the thing… DANCE IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!!!

The ways someone can make a dance “less than fun” are almost unlimited but I covered some of the main culprits a while back in an article titled “God Awful Dancers”. Which begs the question “Why would I knowingly ruin something that I love so much by dancing with someone I know I really don’t enjoy dancing with?”

Truth be told, I don’t have an answer.

I have some dance friends who refer to people who they dance with despite not wanting to do so as “Charity Dances” which I think is a down right mean term. They still dance with these people but don’t enjoy it. I also have friends that tell me that they flat out won’t dance with certain dancers for reasons including; dangerous/rough leads, dangerous/rough following or “inappropriate/ uncomfortable” behvaiour on the dance floor.

And you know what? Those are perfectly legitimate reasons. The problem is, at the moment, I can’t bring myself to say “No”.

But like I said, there are certain individuals I just don’t want to dance with. They actually suck the soul and enjoyment out of a dance and I end up feeling a little empty at the end. I avoid them at the start of a song and, this is going to sound awful, if I’m dancing and see them hovering on the edges of the dance floor nearby, waiting to strike when the song ends, I gradually dance my way over to the other side of the floor. I know, I’m a monster. But if they catch me and ask for a dance, I don’t say no!

Admit it, if you had someone like this waiting for you when a song ends, you'd move to the other side of the room too!

Admit it, if you had someone like this (female versions included) waiting for you when a song ends, you’d move to the other side of the room too!

There is no nice way of saying this…
I really don’t think there is a way to avoid dancing with someone without hurting their feelings.

You could say you: want to rest for this song/ don’t like this song/ are going to the restroom… but what if someone else you want to dance with asks you?

I’ve been told that if you say “No” a couple of times in succession, the person will just stop asking! It still means you have to say no.

What do you do?
I know I can’t be the only person in the dance community that feels conflicted about this. On the one hand I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings… on the other dancing with certain people  just does not feel good.

So, here’s what I’m asking, if you have any insights on the matter, leave a comment and share them. What do you think about refusing a dance? I’m genuinely curious and I think a lot of others are too. Keep it friendly though 😉

Keep Dancing Folks.

**********************************************************************

Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular 🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”I’d really appreciate it 😉

Fiona Uyema

Japanese Cookbook Author

ZoukSide Down - A journey with Brazilian Zouk

A personal blog aimed at contributing, and paying homage, to the most sensual, beautiful dance of Brazil.

Vocabat

Spanish as it hits my ears

SoraNews24 -Japan News-

Bringing you yesterday's news from Japan and Asia, today.

Rhapsodies of the Barefooted Gypsy

Just another WordPress.com site

Carina Of Devon

Adventures of a family afloat

RebSolomon

Cycling: A Great Excuse to Eat More

Alicia en el País de las Maravillas

Las Maravillas del Mundo

Successify!

Create a Life That Matters!

Surfista Travels Siargao, Philippines

The most fun, personalized & professional SURF LESSONS and SURFING EXPERIENCE in the Siargao Island, Philippines!

Zacki Zacki Miyazaki - Sascha's Blog

宮崎在中、ドイツ出身のサシャのブログ

Raymond D. Murphy's Portfolio

My graphic design portfolio, displaying all of my work working in Tokyo

DMS Photograph

Dreams. Memories. Stories.

Oh what a world!

Smile! You’re at the best WordPress.com site ever

My Brailzian Adventure

A record of my time living and teaching in Brazil

Just Dancing Salsa~ Cape Town

Feel. Play. Express.

TheCubanFoodBlog

Cuba reflected through food

%d bloggers like this: