Subtle Systems: The Male Gaze in Swing Dancing

Subtle Systems: The Role of the Male Gaze in Social Swing Dancing

I’m watching an invitational, and, as at most events there is not a single follower whose body shape, mechanics, or aesthetic even remotely resembles mine- but why? Why are ‘we’ missing or under represented (among a number of other subgroups based on body types, ages, races, and socio-economic identifiers), it can’t be that all ‘larger’ people of different appearances are incapable making significant contributions to our community or that pursuits in our community naturally ‘re-shape’ larger bodies during the processes of practice and learning. This is a recurring observation and something I’m seeing a number of posts about weight and body issues in our community hint at.

 I think looking at our scene and how it ‘curates’ what is ‘good’ and ‘successful’ on the international, national, regional, event wide, and personal levels in terms of who is involved in competitions & performances, featured in videos, judging, teaching, organizing, dj-ing, and on the personal level who is invited to social events, conversations, and social dances or interviewed on community podcasts or blogs might help clarify SOME of the ways the male gaze is a present and subtle determining factor in the granting access and opportunity.

What is this unfamiliar term “the male gaze”? The male gaze is when we are socially presented with women from the male point of view, particularly considering women (or other genders) only as valuable or worthy depending how attractive or useful our culture SEEs them to be.

Male gaze is when television shows feature male characters who ‘earn’ super model women, or where female characters only matter to a story line in relationship to the male character. It’s in comic books, where male ‘heros’ are super strong (like men are taught they should aspire to be). The women in comics have super sized breasts, tiny waists, curvy hips, barely there battle armor and long, flowing hair to cater to the cis-gender males who would not otherwise find a woman’s story exciting or interesting unless it appeals to their sexual fantasies. It’s the Brazilian Butt Lift workout videos (targeted at women) where all camera shots decapitate the female dancer and zero in on her tight clothes and writhing body. It’s on instagram where a yoga video will have double shares, likes, and follows when they features a slender woman in a bikini selling the fantasy of achieving that pose and physique through a similar practice.

Bottom line, what consumers of media are presented as ‘desirable’ even in our swing dance community is catered in some degree by the socially influenced idea of what ‘men’ want.

Wikipedia defines the male gaze in the following:

“In narrative cinema, the male gaze usually displays the female character (woman, girl, child) on two levels of eroticism: (i) as an erotic object of desire for the characters in the filmed story; and (ii) as an erotic object of desire for the male viewer (spectator) of the filmed story. Such visualizations establish the roles of dominant-male and dominated-female, by representing the female as a passive object for the male gaze of the active viewer. The social pairing of the passive-object (woman) and the active-viewer (man) is a functional basis of patriarchy, i.e. gender roles that are culturally reinforced in and by the aesthetics (textual, visual, representational) of mainstream, commercial cinema; the movies of which feature the male gaze as more important than the female gaze, an aesthetic choice based upon the inequality of socio-political power between men and women.”[8]:14[6]:127

The following section of the Wikipedia page goes on to explain how the male gaze, which is strongly influenced by patriarchal preferences and damaging stereotypes creates a ‘norm’ for the community.

“As an ideological basis of patriarchy, socio-political inequality is realized as a value system, by which male-created institutions (e.g the movie business, advertising, fashion) unilaterally determine what is “natural and normal” in society.[12] In time, the people of a society believe that the artificial values of patriarchy, as a social system, are the “natural and normal” order of things in society, “

This system is made increasingly more complicated in our seeming scarcity situation where women believe they are competing against each other for male partnership or for comparative social validation. Thus we see women altering themselves, their attire, bodies, and actions to greater fulfill and reinforce the social ‘ideal’ so that they stand out as most worthy or most desirable.

I was at an event a year ago explaining to a respected dance friend how I was becoming growingly frustrated trying to find people to dance with and feeling undervalued in the community. This is a personal scarcity mindset and a problem of worthiness/confidence that I am currently processing and working on in myself in addition to ‘recognizing’ what parts of it are coming in from the community. Weather it’s not being asked to dance (like ever) to never making finals or never seeing others of similar body and age doing so- It’s easy to understand feeling unseen and unwelcome in the swing dance community either for body type, race, age, or economic markers*(please see below). My friend then argues in support of the natural prejudice- obviously in an athletic dance an athletic body will be easier to move because practicing the dance has obviously shaped them this way and when choosing a partner dancers want an advantage. I am still (not so silently) fuming.

To some degree, smaller agile appearing bodies are likely assumed to be easier to MANIPULATE or exert the leaders’ physical will upon if leading and following were based solely on stereotypes- man leads, woman follows. With good leading, cultivated timing, partnership and CONSENT (teamwork) people of all genders, body types, races, ages, and economic markers are capable of dancing (following) with excellence. As a teacher I have seen undeniable evidence that everyone has the potential to develop both mobility and skill. 

Aside from the argument that dancing a physically demanding dance may* eventually result in an athletic body and therefore athletic bodies ARE more capable because they (*may) be an outward result of practice and experience- There is an opportunity-based gap that often develops because of the male gaze and fat phobias/prejudices* (see below).  If we as a community primarily or even slightly favor asking people to dance based on our attraction to them or perception of them as inclined to be good visually then we have created a community in which followers (or leaders) conforming to the socially constructed ideal are sought out for the opportunity of dancing with a partner more than people who do not fit the social ideal.

Add to this a situation where leaders (particularly those who are outwardly validated as good) are less available than followers at that same level (this is changing as more people are being empowered to learn both roles) and whose skills make (arguably) more of an affect on things like competitions and we have a situation where opportunities can feel scarce and where the choices of the few seem to determine what’s available to the community. (Please see my post about why seriously putting time into my leading has opened so many doors for me in terms of ways of working on my dancing and having opportunities).

To help illustrate how the male gaze creates an opportunity gap in our community- I find this analogy useful:

Lets imagine you are a seasoned soccer player who must pass the ball to score but in order to score you must pass the ball to a single team-mate. Both of your options are of EQUAL level and experience and are standing in on open position at either side of the goal. Player 1 looks visually agile, is slender and athletic in build, they are wearing soccer cleats and standard apparel and perhaps they are visually signaling that they have shared interests with you that your economic status and history have afforded both of you-like say, an interest in gaming or world travel. Player 2 is heavy set, they are marginally older than you, they are potentially a gender you are not attracted to, and are wearing shoes you don’t normally see and attire not typical for soccer. You must decide in a split second based on this visual who to pass to and your goal is to score a point…

Who do you pass the ball to knowing that you will also be equally (or sometimes entirely*) credited for the score should one occur? The majority of people will act to set themselves up for the likelihood of success by choosing to pass to people who fit their underlying, subconscious and socially constructed idea of what makes a ‘good’ or ‘able’ teammate.

The thing we may not consider is that even if we could prove that Player 1 and Player 2 started with the same potential- over time, the slender, young, well dressed, familiar player gains more and more experience from all the opportunities: all the ‘passes’ they were visually preferred for.  What if an already recognized and experienced player falls in love with Player 1 and passes the ball repetitively to Player 1 as a demonstration of their devotion and enjoyment of interactions with Player 1? It then appears to both the passer and those watching the game that, that in comparison Player 2 didn’t have the same natural ability or desire to learn.

Over time, Player 1’s appearance and technical preferences become the ideal and standard of the game.  Player 1 is later recognized as MVP and gets invited to games where they continue to be preferentially treated and given access to information, fellow players, and opportunities that Player 2 must self-finance and is not preferred for.  Occasionally organizers or teachers tell Player 2 that they cannot be included because there is no one of equal level to pass the ball to them.

To be clear and specific- dancing is as a means of artistic and personal expression can be difficult to extrapolate from our sense of self. I am NOT advocating for any one of any gender to deny the longing of their soul in their pursuit of a love connection in addition to a dance connection. And I am not saying that you cannot or shouldn’t not dance with WHOEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT TO DANCE WITH- you do not OWE anyone ANYTHING.  Instead, I’m advocating for us (all) to look at how factors like race, age, gender, body type and economic status affect how we select partners for social dances and competition. I’d like us to consider the preference of the male gaze in how what we are presented as ‘good’ is influenced by preferences normalized by society and how this affects our selection of finalists in competitions and in selecting judges, teachers, students, partners, or people to invest in.

As a community- we might consider the following:

-Including a greater variety in what we consider to be ideal (of course balancing this desire with what we currently value in the dance). 

-Making space on our personal dance card for a greater variety of partners.

-Creating opportunities for levels to mix, collaborate, and interact more productively

-Allow roles where there is scarcity to dance with multiple partners in a single competition (We are already allowing people to compete as multiple roles- why not open opportunities up more?!)

– Verbally praising those of different shape/race/age/economics than us.

-Creating more classes that allow flexible gender role opportunities (for switching)

–Teaching vocab and moves to followers as well as leaders

-Encourage people to value each other and the gifts/specialness of each ‘level’ of learning

-If you are a professional photographer or videographer working for ‘free’ or artistic trade consider also involving ‘different’ people in your projects J

-Prioritizing the contributions of followers in competitions instead of writing off a couple based on poor choices the leader determines….

-Accepting the awesomeness that is you and your own aesthetic and choosing to validate, love and explore via dance despite differences you might see between you and others in the community who have achieved goals you are also pursing

 I’m also low key advocating that in arenas where we select members of our community to hold up as ‘successful’ (like finals in a competition) we make more of an effort to include people of a variety of races, body types, genders. I would be good if people coming ‘up’ in our community do not only see majorities of Player 1’s as normal and ‘able’ or ‘good’. This will mean, to some degree expanding the definition of what we consider ideal to include others not socially constructed as attractive. It may also mean departing from the familiar and maybe even *some not all of the traditions we inherited visually. To do this we’ll need expanders and outliers to be VISUALLY included and equally discussed in our community.

We all have to power to help build more understanding of how different bodies create different mechanics and aesthetics and finding ways to see these aesthetics as both mobile and beautiful- it might feel disorienting at frist. We might need to ‘pass the ball’ to someone who doesn’t score and some level of disappointment might be instrumental. In fact, it might look or feel like walking into a contemporary gallery and asking ‘is this really art?’. It’s going to take a conscious set of curators to say “YES! THIS IS ART, this is GOOD and this is what I see here that makes it good”- for those who struggle with my analogies these ‘curators’ would include and not be limited to: level checkers, judges, community writers and thinkers, organizers and hiring committees.

Ideally, it might also be wise set up ways in our community for those who don’t compete or who do not have partners to advertise themselves as instructors or judges so we aren’t limited to only the options that have been hand picked for their attractiveness and are almost entirely selected from competition videos.

Women (traditionally followers) tend to be the main organizers in our community (I suspect because this is largely unpaid, thankless, unseen, community preserving work). I also think that making a priority to hire other women (typically followers) and allowing them to pick their leaders- versus reaching out to the leaders first. I do see and suspect cases where follower/organizers focus on hiring leaders that they want to work with because having them in their scene means that they ‘get’ dances and chances for private lessons. Again I want to emphasize that it’s your time and your money and you need to take care of yourself first but also: as organizers our choices create the conditions that support the types of community we want to see.

I think it goes without saying that the ‘male gaze’ is not the only influence in what happens with talented and skilled people of both roles in our community. It’s just the single focus of this discussion and something I’ve been seeing a bit more clearly in light of relationships, and experiences I’ve had recently.

This is just my short, imperfect, and not all-encompassing list of potential steps, both personal and communal where I see opportunities for us to influence our community. I do plan on writing a post later unpacking how economic or education privilege affects dancers viability and also another article on the types of external validation available in the swing dance community and how these might affect senses of self worth or retention and involvement in the community. (If someone has already done this, please let me know so I can link/refer to their article/or just share or comment versus going through the emotional labor of examining these systems).  I want to also mention that despite the fact that I have high level of education I have always struggled with run on sentences, grammar, and spelling and do not have the money to hire an editor for these discussions as I am not being paid to write them (want to help? let me know).

If you are interested in reading more on this topic here are a few quick links:

“Taking Back the male Gaze, Feeling confident:

“The Male Gaze in Contempory Art”

“Why Representation Matters”

What Are You Looking At? The Complication of the Male Gaze in Fin de Siècle Cancan and Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity Jenn Ariadne CalvanoDepartment of Theatre Arts, University of Louisville, Louisville,
 , PhD

*Fat phobia/ Fat judgement: Noun. fatphobia (uncountable) (neologism) Fear and dislike of obese people and/or obesity. Fear or obsessive avoidance of consuming fat. Can also be judgments we make about the moral character of those who are overweight.


Ability to afford to attend both workshops and dances at an event

Ability to take time off work

Ability to purchase vintage or ‘swing style’ clothing

Ability to have manicures, pedicures, or nice hair cuts (tailored appearance)

Ability to afford a $180 pair of Remix shoes or other dance shoe

Ability to fly to events

Ability to afford hotel stays

Ability to go out to dinner with a group

Ability to dance if not able to afford insurance in case of injury

Available free time to make friends to split rooms or dinners with

*on crediting only leaders for success in finals and showcases: let’s please FUCKING STOP doing this. K- thanks.

*may – when I say that dancing may affect the body physique of the dancer involved- so do a number of other factors including diet, medications, disease/health, genetics, lifestyle, stress, job –etc  and the ability, skill or pre-determined

wonderful, challenging India

I am often asked why I so enjoy visiting India. Usually by people who have gone for a short trip and decided it was too much trouble and that they wouldn’t be returning.

meeting a new friend

To be fair- you never know how your trip might be delayed by a herd of cows in the road (yes, even in a big city) or your hotel might experience a power outage preventing you from sending out that ‘important’ email. Did I mention how thin most mattresses are, that monkeys steal your ice cream and that they bite?? (they also steal laundry)

moments before this monkey jumped on a child and stole it’s ice cream. watch the monkey here

But I might argue that it is the constant ‘intrusiveness’ that is the most delightful and life changing part about a trip to India.

In the west, we live such fast paced lives. We are constantly bombarded by work. We are constantly serving our need for immediacy- we wait in line for that latest phone with the fastest downloading speeds, we love drive through service and microwave meals, and we need responses like yesterday.  We rush through a morning routine, stop by a starbucks for a quick jolt and scarf rather than savor before sitting at our desks sweating with stress from 9-6 (if we are lucky). Maybe we eat a quick microwave dinner before jumping back in our vehicles to meet with friends or we cook ourselves something nice and then we stay up late binging Netflix all to rush again the next morning.


Being in India is almost completely opposite this. Though you may still sit in an eon of traffic- it’s perfectly acceptable to be late (most of the time). Things simply take longer. I haven’t seen a single drive through in the entire country and most people (in my experience) actually nourish and rest themselves  so consuming coffee at the level we do to maintain the go-go-go life style is not necessary.

India calls travellers to be present right here and right now. In the morning it’s almost impossible to be distracted or disconnected if you are walking to get to your shower and you want to avoid a cow pie, or if you have to heat up your water before hand. Most meals are cooked fresh from local recently harvested veggies and you simply wait for them. Today breakfast may be ready at 9, tomorrow: who knows….you learn patience. You are being called, daily, to practice self care (living) in a beautiful and ritualized way. You are called to ‘think’ about your routine- to plan the experiences you have. You are slowing down.

the thin mattress. 

I do occasionally do ‘work’ when I’m in India and it rarely goes the way I have been conditioned to expect. Emails take a bit longer and involve a lot of ‘how do you feel, how is your family?’. They are messages that affirm the importance of my emotional well-being as well as the well being of those around me, though occasionally the questions seem like a waist of time- things well eliminated for the sake of efficiency in the west.  I’ve sat in on meetings where I wasn’t sure if we were meeting just to have tea or to actually achieve something. I have been frustrated by colleagues who have left me waiting for hours while they deal with a sick child- only to find out that their kid was sick and they had to drive the whole family to a doctor on the back of a single motor cycle while trying to weave through the aforementioned heard of cattle.

At first it’s such an imposition. Waiting, not being in control, dealing with ‘hassels’, having to plan things we take for granted in the west, wondering what’s going to happen and knowing there’s not way to predict even what you’ll accomplish tomorrow down to the specifics. Yet slowing down can be so healing. You learn that you do not have control of everything- though it seems you do in the west with your ability to order pizza or a lyft right now with an app on your phone.

Just ate a very large dinner with this fantastic family- also they painted my nails.

Slowly you can become comfortable with letting go.  You learn to relax and enjoy a cup of tea while you wait for a friend. You learn to simply be with yourself with out needing to accomplish anything RIGHT NOW. You engage with the people around you. You learn some of the native language so you can tell the man whom you visit on the corner every day for a small cup of Chai tea how delicious the tea is.  You learn to say ‘this is delicious but please stop feeding me, I am so full I could pop’ in Odiya because even when you leave food on your plate the food miraculously multiplies when you are not looking.

If you let it, India is a full unplug from the immediacy we are conditioned to believe is normal. It offers the opportunity to take responsibility for how you feel (sure, you could be upset by a late friend-but they’ll be really confused why you’re angry ‘to see them’-and didn’t you enjoy a cup of tea and aren’t all these new friends who just invited both of you home for dinner tonight an amazing?).


Being ‘bored’ and having to ‘think’ or ‘self occupy’ allows time when you can become very curious. What is around you right now, how do you feel, what do you see, who is near you, what was that word for ‘hungry’ or ‘cold’ again?

If you are looking for an escape, a place to reset, an encounter with eastern spirituality, a rich historical land with living traditions full of delights for the senses, and the occasional call to introspection and awareness there is little that delivers in quite the way India does.

Yearly Events and Change: Gifts from this year’s Jug Band Jubilee 2018


I sat down at my computer today to write a bit about my week/weekend. It’s curious to me how yearly events help me measure and consider the passage of time in my life. My nostalgia this week has focused on Jug Band Jubilee.

Years and Years ago (I think it must have been 2006?) I can remember the first Jubilee Patrick and I attended together and the exhilaration of realizing that we had this amazing local treasure trove of interesting, relevant, danceable music, not to mention a free live outdoor concert to celebrate it every year…

Between then and the time we married Pat found so much inspiration in the music he started learning banjo and has filled our home with music and eventually started a jug band of his own- The Bourbonville Buskers

IMG_7758Because of the strain of dancing on concrete and grass I learned the importance of setting limits for myself and listening to pain when it occurs in my body. Now: no matter what, I prioritize how my dancing feels- just because it’s possible, doesn’t mean it should happen. When I pay attention I can I let my body tell me when to stop. Of course this is a lesson I continue/d to learn with my back injury- something I’ll have to write about in the future.

Not all the events seemed good when they were happening. For example a friend who had been extremely emotionally abusive and needy for years sent me an absurd and insulting email right after the Jubilee. I sent a frustrated, emotional return email, I let everything I had been tolerating or ignorning come out, un-edited, all at once-I’m sure it was a sight to behold and something the wiser, more compassionate me of today wouldn’t need to do – Ultimately I broke things off with this person. That email empowered me to do something that was a long time coming. I’ve come to appreciate that moment for the lessons it has offered me:  lessons on how to forgive, lessons on how to set boundaries, and lessons on love and compassion. I am still learning things from this – and I still revel in the power I realized I had when I was willing to say ‘no more’. It’s a power so few of us realize is available. Sometimes tolerating a thing does more harm to us than being willing to let it go or to talk about the problems before they are so big the come rolling out, unstoppable.


During the 2017 Jug Band Jubilee Pat hosted a Friday dance with Tuba Skinny at Highland Community Center and I was introduced to the venue I had been looking for. I finally had a reason to start LindyHop Louisville!

The past few Jubilees have brought with them new friends of all types, greater involvement for myself and Patrick and the continued joy of sharing music in a public space with so many of the Louisville Community members showing up to enjoy with us! This year was a particularly ‘woke’ JBJ- focusing on more inclusivity and awareness of the history of what we participate in when we experience Jug music.

This Jug Band Jubilee also seemed like a great time to wind down and look at where I started. I am growing in awareness of everything I am holding together, from dance to art to community service. This week I served as Fundraising Co-Ordinator for an amazing organization called Woman to Woman Kentuckiana- during our big campaign with Give for Good.

Patrick and I also volunteered to appear on TV in promotion of Jug band Jubilee. We worked together with the Jubilee to organize a dance at Highland Community Center with Frog and Henry (that’s a band). As Lindyhop Louisville we also volunteered to teach a free dance workshop at the Jubilee itself!

Throughout the week I taught all my classes and didn’t cancel a single demo or project to make space- I woke up early, went for runs, lifted weights and taught all of my private lessons.

It’s not every week that so much big stuff happens and it seemed to happen with joy.

I am honored to be of use to both non-profits.

Some days I feel so lucky to be in a position where I have the time, energy, and experience to dedicate to creative & healing community endeavors.

I honor the efforts I have made to make my life the type of life I enjoy living and I recognize the joy of taking a second to look back and see where I’ve come from.

What events show you the passage of time in your life?



Feeling Vulnerable


A few weeks ago a new friend of mine said she was interested in coming to take one of my yoga classes. Normally this would elate me-but what you don’t know is that my friend is a seasoned Yogi who I deeply admire and who formerly owned her own studio and trained other yoga practitioners and teachers.


I was immediately filled with self-doubt. I hoped I wouldn’t make any mistakes- I wanted the lesson to be perfect-I over analyzed the poses we would use. I became self aware to the point where I was hindering my own ability to be good.


And why?    because    I want to be GOOD


I want to be good for myself

I want to be good for others

I want to be good- and If I’m being honest, someday I’d like to be really great.


Simply working to put yourself out there in whatever you create in this world- from a dance to a class to a work of art can mean that you are making yourself VULNERABLE.


Sometimes the worry that someone with more awareness and experience will see SEE me- and SEE my problems/flaws (will judge me as not good) becomes overwhelming.


I am not trying to rid myself of this worry- this feeling of vulnerability. I am not trying to containit, or distract it, or quash it with reason.


Often I forget that the way to great is already embedded in me. In every class I teach. In every way that I experience my Yoga practice and my art: from my daily practice to the classes I design and teach.  And often it is the ways that I am bad that I grow most from- but only by doing them and then re-doing.  I am no a perfect person yet sometimes I feel the need to make myself appear that way.


I am not a guru

I do not look like a yogi

I am not +that+ flexible

I do not know everything

My experiences are limited


Yet I am expansive

I hold wisdom

I gain flexibility and strength

I add knowledge alongside experience with every breath


I place my hand on my belly- and another on my heart and I deepen my awareness of this feeling- I understand its roots in my desire to be loved and valued (something I truly can only bring to myself) and I realize that I am the container.  Vulnerability is a feeling that ebs and flows. I go searching in my body. I identify where I am tight and worried. Where I feel scared and small. I smile at these emotions and I continue to breathe and relax.


I am vulnerable. I am allowed to be vulnerable. I persit in being and trying to be good.  I recognize this effort and honor it in myself and in others.


What makes you feel Vulnerable? Scared? Small? Novice? How do you love the feeling and the container with equanimity?

Dealing with Dread

Learning from my travel fears.

At the end of a recent class I taught (in Balboa) I was discussing with some of my students and staff how meditation helped me because it helped me recognize, accept, and transform my anxiety. I used to experience terrible anxiety with the occasional existential weeping panic crisis- I used to sweat constantly. No Joke- constantly-and it would get really bad when I partook of my favorite productivity enhancer: coffee. Why schedule was something like this: Stay awake, study, read, allow employers to benefit from my positive attitude and work ethic while giving me very little in return, dance, practice dance, make art, make clothes, make house with my hubby, cuddle the puppies, run marathons, and go to bed late on the night cap, sleep poorly, wake up and do it again. For years danced to the buzzing protest of my body, to the sweat and tears, and to long nights wondering how I could work so hard, be so smart and so giving and so talented and financially make so little- barely enough, in most cases to afford health insurance or the loose-leaf ‘don’t sweat it’ tea that I used daily to thinly masked the insistent signs that I need to just slow the heck d o w n.

Learning how to slow down, breathe, heal, trust, and let go has been now a 3 year ongoing process which will need to be the subject of it’s own essay because it’s been such a powerful and transformative pursuit.

At any rate, one of my friends commented that he was surprised that I experienced anxiety. And I was surprised at his surprise. Despite my meditation or what seems like my outgoing personality (I tell you, I identify strongly as an introvert, but can convincingly mimic the behavior we associate with extroverts thanks to growing up in a large and boisterous family), I do, deal with fear and anxiety. Daily.

There was something that sat oddly about the conversation to me. I think it was the assumption that ‘anxiety’ only refers to dysfunctional episodes, or to people who experience socially related symptoms. What about just the worry that you aren’t who you are supposed to be? Or that who you are isn’t likeable or enough? What if anxiety could also simply refer in general to the fear that we experience in simply being living sentient beings. Could we see anxiety as a common experience, like pain, birth, and death-one that is driven as much by biology as it is by our past memories?

One big thing that my meditation and now yoga practices have taught me is that pain and anxiety are normal and unavoidable human experiences- even Buddha himself felt hunger and occasionally worry. There is a reason our bodies have a limbic response called fight or flight and it would be silly to think that this response and others like it don’t have lasting emotional or physical manifestations.

When I feel dread arise, as it always does (Will I get that job? Do I look ok? When is my car going to break down? What’s going to happen?) I use meditation to look deeper into how and where I’m feeling the worry and what their roots are. The more I address these issues, sometimes simply by finally seeing them as what they are for the first time. I could, with guidance name them: Overworking myself was a result of needing to feel ‘safe’ and secure. The stress that arose from feeling desperate and often encouraged me to take more jobs, teach another class, teach a summer class and FILL my schedule to the point where, not matter what my bank account read- I was depleted and I didn’t have time to realize that what I was putting in, time wise, was not worth the pay out (particularly not for adjunct and part time university professors-a subject for another post). With these realizations greater questions came up for me: how do I define safety, love, and acceptance and what are the ways that I have learned need, panic, rejection? How do these things in subtle and not so subtle ways affect my body, my emotions, and with them: the way I re-act to my environment and how my reactions inform the environment of how to respond to me. (Here when I say environment I refer not to some Ferngully-esque idea of Gaia or nature, but instead the events, energies, people and circumstances or situations I find myself experiencing).

Slowly, in looking at the questions and allowing myself to see the answers I began and continue to let go and to relax around my worries.

So as I’m about to embark on another trip abroad as a woman alone I am confident but somewhat wary. I am confident that I can travel safely to my destination and that I can emotionally handle any of the things that can and likely will come up that might threaten my idea of safety or ‘fun’ travel (ha!). So I think it might be interesting for people to know that I also, have been working with myself on something ‘fun’ and ‘adventurous’ like this trip. So below I’ll list for you some of my fears (both rational and irrational) that affect my level of anxiety on this trip and how I’m dealing with them.

These are my fears in order from greatest to least significant:

Somehow my agency, freedom, health or safety are threated (I’m assaulted, kidnapped, or involved in some type of accident and become ill or injured)

My visa gets rejected or there is some other fiasco and I’m denied entry for a second time and have to make another 14 hour + 14 hour back to back flight in the same god forsaken seat while spending 14 hours and a 9 hour layover in NY contemplating all my failings as a human leading me to that exact moment of sleeplessness.

I arrive at the ashram where I am supposed to study yoga and I am the largest (curviest) and least flexible person there. No one likes me and I make no friends.

I have to deal with unexpected and extreme sexism where I am ignored or dismissed to a level that I feel can no longer politely tolerate and I end up having to explain to yet another ignorant person why their behavior is socially and personally unhealthy and disrespectful while having to show them the compassion they so clearly lack for the entire female gender.

Having to come up with amusing but still polite ways to tell people:

I’ve been married for almost 6 years and we have no children and then having to smile at them and say ‘no’ when they inquire if there are some problems with me (obviously nothing could be wrong with him-even though nothing is wrong with him). Also, maybe they might like to know that their question is rude and invasive and indicates that they only think a woman’s worth lies in her ability to make children for a husband who…(ok I need to stop here)

No, I do not have diabetes and no I do not want them to guess my weight in Kilograms. Number one, the number you are saying is WAY less than numbers I’m used to hearing so it all sounds great to me, sure, I weigh 55kg: sounds great. Yes, I am a full head taller than you, yes, according to my converter I weigh about the same as your diabetic mother, but she’s short and I don’t have diabetes, in fact, according to the scale and chart at my physicians office: I (clap) am (clap) very healthy and not even overweight (clap clap) why yes, I would love desert or milk chai.

I don’t want to buy whatever they are trying to sell me and to stop following me because it’s making me think they have other motives which might cause me to start doing my number 1 big worry listed first above.

Because I’m curvy and inflexible I have no friends at the Ashram (according to my earlier irrational worry), obviously my last fear is that I will bear the emotional weight of dealing with any of the above issues totally alone and while cut off from my friends and family who are now 9.5 hours behind me.

Before you ask, yes, one person can feel all that and not explode. And no, I am not sweating while I type this up. In fact, I’m not worried at all, I’m confident because I can look at all these fears and breathe deeply. I do not need them to change. I see them. I see why they bother me. I see myself in this situation and I can understand exactly why I call these concerns based on my experiences. I thank myself for worrying because all these worries are trying to do is spare me pain and suffering or to prepare me for the experience of pain and suffering-and I am big enough to see them, love them, but not get lost in them.

In addition to looking at this list:  I use a form of meditation/prayer which I find most helpful, right now, to address these issues:

I sit and inhale for 3-10 seconds filling my whole belly and side body, hold for 3 and exhale for 3-10 seconds at least 3-10 times. Then I voice for myself the new list below (in my head, not out-load cause I don’t want to look crazy in public) Pro tip- I wrote these down and recorded them as a voice memo, I used ‘garage band’ to overlay my vocal recording with some free- meditation music that Moby released for public use, the whole meditation takes me about 8 minutes. I listen to it in my head phones and feel instantly better:

“I am safe and healthy”

“I travel with ease and comfort. I feel blessed that I have the time and resources to make this trip”

“My yoga program is amazing and the ashram itself exceeds my expectations- there are even hot water showers and I find surprising things to be delighted by.”

“I love all the people who I share my practices with for the next month”

“Working with my KAIR residency team goes smoothly and my voice is understood and respected. I am understood in English and in Odia with minimum effort”

“I am surprised by the liberation and safety I feel while traveling and staying alone”

“I meet up with my friends from Louisville in Varanasi with ease and am delighted by the things we do in that area. I depart from India taking with me lots of new memories made with old friends in a new and spiritual city!”

“I buy supplies for art and have no trouble shipping them home. They arrive much earlier than I expect”

“I find amazing fabrics and trims to purchase and I HAVE the time of my life touching them and shopping”

“My senses are delighted by the beauty, tastes, smells, and sensory experiences of India”

“I am delighted by the art work I see and I find the perfect light weight Sarasvati, Durga, and Ganesh sculptures at just the right prices. Maybe I even find a Shiva I like. ”

“I live with joy, good health, and ease. I couldn’t be happier with my travels and I find reasons to laugh every day.”

This one’s a long shot but…. “I am gifted an amazing Harmonium to use to accompany myself for singing wonderful mantra and I bring it home to share this tradition in my Louisville practice”

“I am relaxed and thankful.”

I may go over this list multiple times trying to picture all of these things happening and cultivating in myself the joy of them being true. Oddly enough, doing this usually ‘sets’ me emotionally up to receive awesome things. Today I was feeling really hungry but somewhat unhappy about the offerings in the C terminal of Newark and how expensive they were. However, I was fresh off doing this mediation and I was unaware that I was beaming a smile at the girl making my sandwich- low and behold, fries and extra alvacado ‘appeared’ free of charge in my food basket and the lady next to me offered to buy me a beer, I said no but thanks, as the turbulence from the last flight was still making my tummy churn, but dang, those fries were good.

If it suits me at the end of my meditation I’ll sometimes talk to the people around me I feel in spirit. I’ll ask my grandmother or guardian angel to watch over me. If I still feel like I need more help getting into a healthier emotional or energetic state: I might pray to st. Christopher the Catholic Patron Saint of Travelers or offer my experiences to Ganesh- the destroyer of obstacles and the god of beginnings: I imagine those ideas and energies- the idea being carried across a dangerous passage by someone who wants to help me (Like Christopher did for Christ in disguise as a child), or the energies of new beginnings and being able to overcome any issue- I like to picture I can draw these abilities to myself and wrap them around me- relaxing and allowing myself to see my fears and yet not react to them or be controlled by them. I’m sure some of you might find what I just wrote blasphemous, but it works for me and I FEEL better, even good-and I’m kinder and more loving to those I connect with because of it.

Dealing the fear and anxiety isn’t so much about suppressing or controlling the fear, but working with it and choosing what feelings to cultivate in oneself.

I’m off to go check to see if there is a water fountain where I can refill this 5$ bottle of nestle water (really Newark $5!) I just finished. I’m sure there will be one and if not, maybe the stewardess on the plane will give me an extra large pour when she comes by.

Thanks for hanging in there for such a long post! Oxoxoxo!

Ganesha Necklace carved by my Friend Rami Moharana.



What I’m packing for 6 weeks in India with a 33lb bag weight limit

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Me, in my matching Indian set. Casey in an amazing light weight beautiful dress. Clearly I’m afraid of the sun!


My precious



original plan for bags: Large check in, back pack rolling bag for carry on, and back pack purse. Note that the large bag weighted 6 lb with nothing in it.

So I officially think this is the lightest I have ever packed for any trip where I’ll be multitasking at this level.

Packing for this trip has been quite the affair. After my last deportation disaster (perhaps more on that later) I’ve felt the need to over think everything I’m bringing- as if being exquisitely organized could guarantee that my passport and visa will be accepted at the gate and that I’ll actually EARN my 200 Hour yoga certification this year. (Gawfaw-Update: I made in into India, by passport and visa were good this time- praise the lord and always get e-tourists visa and don’t buy 10 year with CKG).


I was feeling pretty good about things when I started packing and photographing last week, and I was ready to take a ‘big’ bag to bring back sari fabric and other goodies only purchasable in the colors and varieties that I crave in India itself when I thought to check the baggage allowance on my domestic flights within India. Last year I had to juggle a few items between bags when I flew from Delhi to Bhubaneswar. And, sure enough, the airlines I am flying this time have even tighter regulations than before. Check on bags can only weigh 15kg (33lb for my fellow American readers) and carry on can only be 7kg (15lb). Can anyone explain to me how they think I can survive on a wardrobe for 2 months what fits into a 33lb bag? Particularly when the wardrobe needs to accommodate for 6 hours of physical yoga practice and 2 hours of meditation daily?

Needless to say, I had to take all my items out of their packages, and take only what I thought, for sure, I’d need. I was going to take a full thing of tooth paste, and also my containers of shampoo and conditioner, but turns out, small bottles will do fine. I was going to bring my toiletries bag, but that weighs a lb, so it looks like I’ll organize that stuff in a small lighter weight bag that I’ll buy when I’m there and discard when I leave. Usually I take a number of rolls of American toilet paper (sounds silly, I know, but we are really spoiled with quality tp it’s availability in most stores). When I’m in Raghurajpur, I have to drive to a supermarket in Puri to get the uncomfortable, thin, unpleasant rolls they sell at the one store that carries a few rolls. No Luxury TP for me this time, carefully rolled without the center- didn’t fit in the bag-bum guns it is (for my western friends, these are kitchen sprayers near the toilet). On the organized note: this time around I found myself counting items like pills, and tampons and other things I’d usually just bring in their over the counter quantity and putting them together in zip lock bags with handwritten labels. My carry on currently weighs in at 26 lb and my carry laptop bag at 14.5llb. I have a small purse too which is packed to the max. For those of you interested here is roughly what is in each bag.


In my Purse (which has adjustable straps and can be worn as a back pack)

cell phone and charger

charger adapter for India/Asia

a file folder containing all paperwork, hotel receipts, visas, addresses of where I’m staying, emergency contacts, and additional small photos of my face to use to get a SIM card when there, pass port etc

a wallet where I have 50$ in American cast and 100$ in Rupees, a credit and visa card and my drivers license. Sometimes they give teachers/students discounts so one of my uni id cards is also in the bag

small packet of electrolytes (what plants crave and what people loose when flying)

a granola bar with 15g protein (vegan) and peanut butter flavored

a cookie and pea-nuts + pistachios (I inherited a sweet-n-salty tooth)

ear buds

battery pack for phone with cable

sketchbook and 3 pens

small sketchbook for taking notes on things like language/words/details whatever, it fits in my pocket

alcohol wipes, travel sized hand sanitizer, 2 face wipes with moisturizer

1 roll of toilet paper re-rolled without the center roll and placed in a zip lock

Chap stick

jewelry in small plastic container

pocket book of coins (last time my friends kept asking for my countries coin currency)

my business cards

a small led light so I can see what the hell is at the bottom of my bag and where I’m going if I’m walking at night in India (bonus, they refer to these as torches- love it)

2 packets of emergen-c

a prayer card for st. Christopher, patron saint of travelers

prescription of Sipro in case I get cholera or can’t stop using the bathroom because of vicious microbes

small container with aspirin, charcoal pills, Dramamine, ibuprofen

Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Bobby Pins, deodorant-full not travel sized- I sweat A LOT- comb, 4 safety pins

Roll of friction tape/injury tape in case my shoes start to rub a blister or I get a paper cut or something

life straw (brand) water filtration straw



In my laptop bag:

more travel battery packs, cables, cords converters

I phone camera lenses and clamp

snacks and a package of vegan dietary supplement with vitamins and protein to mix with almond milk or water if I feel like I’m hungry and obviously about to die

3 more packages of nuts

15 photos to help explain my life in Louisville and what I do to someone who doesn’t speak any English but still wants to English with me (side note, already used these with my Air Bnb hostess)

A Package of printed photos I took with my friends in Raghurajpur- including the doctor who made me prove that I did yoga by demonstrating it in front of a very large group of people and the woman tailor and all her ‘girls’ who insisted my pants not have pockets because I should make my male escorts carry all my things. I intend to give the images with small gifts.

a set of flashcards with the Sanskrit names for a number of the primary yoga poses

female hygiene products

my next outfit for when I arrive in Delhi in case my checked baggage doesn’t make it there. Right now I’m wearing a very conservative full coverage yoga outfit (except for the scoop neck which is covered by a Shawl). When I arrive I’ll want to change into a looser Indian top and harem-style pant set my current pants are too tight and show too much bum (no skin is exposed, they are just, well: yoga pants being worn in public space they (I) tend to attract large crowds of 20 year old boy-men where ever I go).

Fresh undies and a fresh bra (worth hauling around in a lap top bag).

Eye mask and giant memory foam neck support for upright sleeping-worth it

Ear plugs

Extra alcohol and antiseptic wipes

a pad lock for the laptop bag and a bike chain lock for my luggage in case I ever need to chain it down while I’m traveling. (I like to do this if I leave it in the car with a driver or down stairs of a hotel or something. I know it won’t stop anyone, but I like to think I don’t want to make it easy to unzip my bags and take a peak.


In my Checked bag

All Medication, including things like Mucinex in the exact amount I think I might need to use.

Benadryl anti itch cream (I wished I had this last time and couldn’t find an equivalent there I had so many mosquito bites it was unreal). 1 container colloidal silver nasal spray (for when the air quality starts to irritate my nose or gives me another sinus infection)


6 assorted Band-Aids

medicated foot moisturizer cream

water bottle with filtration system (brand-life straw)

a few rolls of toilet paper re-rolled without the center

The coolest roll-up hat to keep the sun off my sensitive and 1 pair of sunglasses

1 pair cheep flip flops 1 pair Chaco’s in orange (thanks Susie Schuhmann!)

5 top and bottom outfits 3 coordinating scarves per the Indian style

1 sari top,1 sari underskirt, 1 sari fabric wrap

10 pairs of underwear including 1 pair of thinx

10 bras: 2 regular, 8 fancy but comfortable sports bras

4 pairs of yoga pants

4 full coverage tops (think T-shirts that also cover a bit of my bum and that don’t flip up when I’m inverted….because….yoga)

3 bratops with 3 crop tops to wear with the bra-tops in order to cover my cleavage- potentially to be worn with yoga pants to get into the Ganges river in (in case you are wondering, I will not repeat my last river washing mistake and am prepared with appropriate products and hydration plans)

1 pair of socks (on the air plane I’m wearing slip on canvas shoes with the 2nd pair of socks)

1 tictac container of dance floor wax (because I have to practice balboa foot work and balance during turns/rotations but also because sometimes I get annoyed with how women are treated in India and I play PINK songs and dance around to blow off steam and I need a smooth surface for all that groovin’)

Vitamin pills and per a recommendation from a fellow yogi who also studied in India- I’m taking 10 packages of vegan protein supplements because she said she lost a lot of muscle on the diet she was fed at the ashram. So that gives me 1 package every 3 days I think that should be plenty, I can almost do an unassisted chin up and I can forward row 45lb now- I don’t want to loose that sort of hard earned strength and I doubt weight lifting is part of our daily regime/I doubt I’ll have energy for weight lifting after doing all the awesome yogas!

19 packages of electrolyte power (it’s what plants crave) in case I get dehydrated or constipated (related conditions I commonly experience while traveling)

Make up-1 lipstick in berry, 1 compact with mirror and powder, 1 eye liner, 1 travel container of eye shadows in 3 types of pink/purple

Toiletries deemed necessary and only in small quantities all fitting in a single zip lock container including moisturizing face wipes.



Things you can’t see that I am ‘taking’ with me

Tetnis and Rubella cocktail Shot or Update (good for 10 years)

Heps A-D (3 part shots for life time immunity)

Anti-malaria pills (if I’m going to areas where there has been malaria in the past 2 years)- which is none this time.

Daily Kombucha (home made) (drinking everyday since I decided to travel)

Daily Probiotics

Emergen-C taken daily for the week leading to departure and then every 24 hours while enroute


The Pageantry, Beauty, and Meal time experiences of India

There are many things I found inspiring about my recent trip to india, but the food, was, by far, one of the most fascinating experiences.

The images and dialog below represent my experiences, as a western both observing and participating in meals during my travels. One should note, that food styles vary widely from area to area in India- East to West, North to South- and each set has different meal time practices, values, flavors and tastes.